Monday, 6 June 2016

Chateau Montelena and The Judgement of Paris: 40 Years On

The famed Judgement of Paris of 24th May 1976, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The small, private tasting held behind the closed doors of Steven Spurrier's wine school and shop 'Caves de la Madeleine', would come to have a profound impact on landscape of the wine trade. In the company of the words finest and most influential critics, editors and growers, Spurrier matched the first growths of Bordeaux and the Grand Crus of Burgundy against the emerging stars of California. Our own Chateau Montelena, of Napa Valley, rubbed shoulders against the likes of Meursault's Drouhin and Puligny-Montrachet's Leflaive. No-one - not Raymond Oliver, Jean-Claude Vrinat and least of all Odette Khan - could have predicted the outcome: Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay stormed to the top, rated the best Chardonnay of the day.

The magnitude of this tasting cannot be overstated: following George Taber's write up of the event, the world's media began to spread the word. Californian wines could equal Old World quality at New World prices. Spurrier was admonished by the French and cast out of En Primeur tastings for a year or two, while the likes of Khan decried the whole affair a scam. After the dust had settled and tempers waned, a re-staging in 2006 celebrated how far the region's wines have come. 

Chateau Montelena, then under the watchful eye of James L. Barrett and winemaker Mike Grgich, blazed the path for American wines and challenged steadfast assumptions about the superiority of French terroir. Today, Bo Barrett continues the work started by his father, crafting wines which consistently impress. Even Robert Parker is struck by the estate's unflappable ability to  produce outstanding wines year on year, noting their "30 year track record with NO DUDS!". The new release 2013s are no exception, with another powerful range of Napa wines.

The 40th Year of the Judgement of Paris has seen a host of coverage across all outlets. Here are our favourites:

The Somm Journal - page 56
Decanter: Wine Legend - Chateau Montelena 1973
Decanter June 2016 Feature (print only)


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