In Honor of Steven Spurrier and The Judgment of Paris

This year marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the infamous Judgment of Paris, which ranked two California wines above some of the most prestigious wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux. The blind wine tasting concealed the wines’ identities until after the jury of nine prominent French tasters voted its order of preference. The tasters judged the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon the best red wine, besting four top-ranked Bordeaux, including first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion.

The event’s profound repercussions were made more poignant earlier this year with the death of the man who conceived of and organized the event—the British wine expert Steven Spurrier. Curious to see how California wines would fare against French wines made from the same grapes, he involved highly respected French tasters, but the presence of American wines was unbeknownst to them. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Winemaker Marcus Notaro summed up Steven’s significance when he said, “Steven was a true visionary, and his idea to create the Judgment of Paris – to pit the best of Bordeaux against the new wines of California – changed the history of California wine and certainly brought international and enduring recognition to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.” He continued, “He has left a lasting impact and legacy on our winery and the world of wine.”

Named after the rocky promontory of the Stags Leap Palisades and the legend of the stag that leaped to freedom across the peaks, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars had produced its first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon just four years before the Judgment of Paris. The Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars win impacted Napa Valley and made the Stags Leap District famous worldwide; a succession of honors and awards followed. Wall Street Journal’s Barbara Ensrud famously said the 1976 Judgment of Paris affected the wine world “like a vinous shot heard round the world.”

In 1989, the Stags Leap District in Napa Valley became an American Viticultural Area. In 1996, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History placed a bottle of the history-making 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon in the permanent collection. In 2013, it was named one of the Smithsonian’s “Objects that Made America.” Still today, the tasting results are on display in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars visitor center.

Given its weighty pedigree, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is pulling out all the stops to honor the tasting that catapulted the winery, the Napa Valley, and American wine to an international audience. On October 5, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars hosted a Napa Valley Tribute. The event celebrated Steven Spurrier at a four-course luncheon in the estate vineyard. It included other Napa Valley wines from the original “Judgment of Paris” wineries—Chateau Montelena, Freemark Abbey, and Clos du Val.

And, in honor of the 45th anniversary, the winery is offering an exclusive commemorative tasting until the end of the year, pouring four vintages of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon to illustrate the evolution of this iconic wine: 2002 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon; 2007 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon; 2012 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon; and 2017 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon. Or join the winery for its November 6 “The Art of Aging” event.

Story By: Layne Randolph