The year was 1976. The event, organized by a Parisian wine shop owner, was a highly publicized blind tasting competition that pitted California wines against the very finest bottles in France. The air in the room was certain and somewhat cavalier—the unspoken prediction was that, of course, the French wine would come out on top. How could it not?
The Judges’ Table
Nine judges, the crème de la crème of French gastronomy, were in attendance, including Parisian sommeliers, the head of a renowned French vineyard and the editor of The French Wine Review. Though it may seem the judging table was unfairly biased, the reds and whites from the Napa Valley, Bordeaux and Burgundy were blindly poured, ensuring that no individual knew which glass was which.
So certain was judge Raymond Oliver of Le Grand Vefour restaurant that the white wine he tasted was French, he remarked after sampling it, “Ah, back to France!”
An Unexpected Revelation
However, much to everyone’s surprise, when the scores from all nine judges were tallied, it was not the French wine that the judges preferred—it was a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, both of which are California vineyards.
This shocking result marked a turning point in the industry. If California wines could compete on an international scale, so could wines from Oregon, Washington, Argentina and Australia. Soon, vineyards were popping up all over the world.
TThe wineries responsible for the winning nectar at the Paris Tasting of 1976 never expected their bottles to become such significant pieces of American history. However, the Smithsonian Institution chose these bottles to display as part of their online exhibit, “101 Objects That Made America.” Alongside the bottles were such iconic items as Abraham Lincoln’s hat, Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.
Perhaps it will no longer be a surprise to some, then, that a significant percentage of AmaWaterways’ Wine Cruises are hosted by California vintners, sommeliers, wine educators and the like. We have also expanded our program to include Wine Hosts from notable wine regions throughout North America.
We know, unlike the 1976 judges did before their scores were calculated, that North American wines are just as exquisite to sip as French wines and are determined to share both these and Europe’s finest with every wine connoisseur who sails with us.