BLIND TASTINGThis year marks four decades since the infamous Paris Tasting of 1976, the one in which French judges were mortified when they picked California wines as victors in blind tastings.

The “Judgment of Paris,” as the tasting came to be known, put California winemaking on the map, inspiring people all over the globe to take its craft seriously.

This year there will be a myriad of celebrations throughout Northern California and the country to celebrate the 40-year milestone. They include a series of winemaking dinners across the country, the debut of an autobiography and special gatherings at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.

While few are aware of this fact, the two winning wines of the Paris Tasting are on permanent display in the Smithsonian: The Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay. The two bottlings are on display in the museum’s exhibit: “FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950 to 2000.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will celebrate the historic tasting with special events May 16 and 17.

Napa Valley winemaker Warren Winiarski, who made the winning cabernet sauvignon, is the lead sponsor of the May 17th dinner, which is a fundraiser for the American Food and Wine History Project. This projects collects winegrowing and winemaking objects, archival materials and audio interviews with many in the wine industry.

“As the grandson of immigrants, I am honored to be a part of the most American of all museums,” Winiarski said.

Featured guests at the dinner will include Steven Spurrier, the English wine merchant who instigated the Paris Tasting; George Taber, the Time magazine correspondent and the only journalist who covered the tasting; Violet Grgich, the daughter of Mike Grgich, the winemaker of the winning 1993 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay; Bo Barrett, the CEO and master winemaker of Chateau Montelena Winery and wife Heidi Barrett, winemaker and owner of La Sirena.

Meanwhile Grgich Hills Estate is paying tribute to the Paris tasting with a series of winemaker dinners throughout the country. The Rutherford winery is also releasing vintner Mike Grgich’s autobiography “A Glass full of Miracles,” which delves into his crafting of the winning chardonnay. (

Across the Mayacamas in Sonoma County,  Healdsburg’s Bacigalupi Vineyards will host an event April 30 to celebrate its historic grapes which were part of the blend in the winning chardonnay. The winery’s “Return to Paris” blind tasting will test the mettle of French and California wines by bringing in some of the bottlings that were originally tasted. (

For the uninitiated, here’s the backstory about the tasting that shifted the tectonic plates of the winemaking world. English wine merchant Spurrier and his American business partner Patricia Gallagher spearheaded the May 24th tasting, and they invited Time correspondent Taber to cover it. The formal blind tasting had a line-up of red and white wines – six California chardonnays against four white Burgundies, and six California cabernet sauvignons against four red Bordeaux.

The tasting was Spurrier’s experiment to pit the best of the Old World against the best of the New World. He enlisted nine highly esteemed French judges, and their findings, chronicled in Time magazine, shook up the wine industry, first in America and then in the world at large.

I was an exchange student in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1976, not even a journalist or wine-lover yet. But later, when I became a wine-loving journalist, I realized just how powerful and far reaching this tasting was.  I’ve often thought what if a journalist hadn’t covered the tasting? What if no story had appeared in something as reputable as Time magazine?

Spurrier was wise to invite a Time magazine reporter to chronicle the event. Who knew the results would be so shocking?

Winiarski said he was simply following his passion, and he never expected top honors. He certainly never expected a bottle he crafted to bewitch French judges and wind up in a museum.

“We were just passionate about wine on its own terms,” Winiarski said. “We were trying to make beautiful and great wine, and in love with that idea, we gave it our lives.”