1976 Media Coverage
June 7, 1976
Judgment of Paris
Americans abroad have been boasting for years about California
wines, only to be greeted in most cases by polite disbelief - or
worse. Among the few fervent and respected admirers of le vin de
Californie in France is a transplanted Englishman, Steven Spurrier,
34, who owns the Cave de la Madeleine wine shop, one of the best in
Paris, and the Academie du Vin, a wine school whose six-week
courses are attended by the French Restaurant Association's chefs
and sommeliers. Last week in Paris, at a formal wine tasting
organized by Spurrier, the unthinkable happened: California
defeated all Gaul.
The contest was as strictly controlled as the production of a
Chateau Lafite. The nine French judges, drawn from an oenophile's
Who's Who, included such high priests as Pierre Tari,
secretary-general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes, and
Raymond Oliver, owner of Le Grand Vefour restaurant and doyen of
French culinary writers. The wines tasted were transatlantic
cousins - four white Burgundies against six California Pinot
Chardonnays and four Grands Crus Chateaux reds from Bordeaux
against six California Cabernet Sauvignons.
As they swirled, sniffed, sipped and spat, some judges were
instantly able to separate an imported upstart from an aristocrat.
More often, the panel was confused. "Ah, back to France!" exclaimed
Oliver after sipping a 1972 Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. "That
is definitely California. It has no nose," said another judge -
after downing a Batard Montrachet '73. Other comments included such
Gallic gems as "this is nervous and agreeable," "a good nose, but
not too much in the mouth," and "this soars out of the
When the ballots were cast, the top-soaring red was Stag's Leap
Wine Cellars' '72 from the Napa Valley, followed by
Mouton-Rothschild '70, Haut-Brion '70 and Montrose '70. The four
winning whites were, in order, Chateau Montelena '73 from Napa,
French Meursault-Charmes '73 and two other Californians, Chalone
'74 from Monterey County and Napa's Spring Mountain '73. The U.S.
winners are little known to wine lovers, since they are in short
supply even in California and rather expensive ($6 plus). Jim
Barrett, Montelena's general manager and part owner, said: "Not bad
for kids from the sticks."
Wednesday June 9, 1976
WINE TALK By Frank J. Prial
California Labels Outdo French in Blind Test
Several California white wines triumphed over some of the best
Burgundy has to offer in a blind tasting in Paris recently. More
startling: The judges were French.
The tasting was arranged by Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who
runs a wine-shop and the Académie du Vin, a school for tourists and
Frenchman alike, in Paris. The wines were limited to two types,
chardonnay, the grape that makes the best whites in California and
France, the cabernet sauvignon, the grape that makes the best reds
in both areas.
The French judges voted the 1973 chardonnay from Chateau
Montelena and the 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine
Cellars the two best bottles in the tasting. Both wineries are
relatively new; both are in California's Napa Valley.
Judges are Listed
The judges at the tasting were Pierre Brejoux, Inspector General
of the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine Contrôllée;
Michel Dovaz of the Institut Oenologique de France; Aubert de
Villaine, co-director of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; Claude
Dubois-Millot, commercial director of Le Nouveau Guide, a popular
gastronomic magazine; Odette Kahn, director of the prestigious
Revue du Vin de France; Pierre Tari, proprietor of Chateau
Giscours; Raymond Oliver, owner of the restaurant Le Grand Vefour;
Jean Claude Vrinat, owner of the restaurant Taillevent, and
Christian Vanneque, wine steward at the restaurant La Tour
The red wine tasting will be discussed at another time. The
California chardonnays in the tasting were Chateau Montelena, 1973;
Spring Mountain, 1973; Chalone Vineyards, 1974; Freemark Abbey,
1972; Veedercrest Vineyards, 1972, and David Bruce 1973.
The French entries were; Meursault - Charmes (Roulot), 1973;
Beaune Clos des Mouches, 1973 (Drouhin), Batard-Montrachet, 1973
(Ramonet-Prudhon), and Puligny, Montrachet "Les Pucelles," 1972
Except for Mr. Drouhin, the names in parentheses are the
proprietors of the Burgundy estates where the wine was produced.
Drouhin is the name of a wine shipping firm in Beaune that, in this
case, probably purchased the wine from several owners in the Clos
de Mouches vineyard, then blended and bottled it in the Drouhin
Each judge was asked to evaluate the wines as to color, bouquet,
palate and balance and to give each a numerical rating on a scale
of 20 possible points. The results: Chateau Montelena, 132;
Meursault - Charmes, 126.5; Chalone Vineyards, 121; Spring
Mountain, 104; Beaune Clos des Mouches, 101; Freemark Abbey, 100;
Batard Montrachet 94; Puligny-Montrachet, 89; Veedercrest
Vineyards, 88; and David Bruce, 63.
Regular readers will recall several similar comparisons in which
the American chardonnays bested their French rivals. In both
instances, the latest only six months ago here in New York,
champions of the French wines argued that the tasters were
Americans with possible bias toward American wines. What is more,
they said, there was always the chance that the burgundies had been
mistreated during the long trip from the wineries.
What can they say now? The judges included some of the leaders
of the French wine establishment and there is always the chance
that the American wines suffered during their long trip to France.
Could Mr. Spurrier have rigged the tasting, providing lesser
bottles of the burgundies?
The fact is that the best American vineyards and wineries can
produce extraordinary wines. Admittedly the wines in this tasting
are from the premium wineries, are in extremely short supply and
cost a great deal of money - anywhere from $6 to $20 a bottle. But
the same is true of the burgundies.
Miljenko Mike Grgich, the winemaker at Chateau Montelena, said
he made 1,800 cases of the 1973 chardonnay; all of which has been
sold. The wine was fermented extremely slowly and spent six months
in French oak barrels before bottling.
The 1974 chardonnay - another 1,800 cases will be released in
August, Mr. Grgich said, "The one to watch will be the 1975." He
said. "I think it will be the chardonnay of the century." There
will be about 5,000 cases of the 1975, he said.
The 1973 Montelena is available for $6.60 a bottle in a few
stores in the New York area, including the 67 Liquor store in
Manhattan, Forest Hills Liquors in Queens, Winetasters of
Westchester, Syosset Liquors on Long Island and Fine Wine &
Spirits in Tenafly, N.J.
Sunday, June 13, 1976
By William Rice
Those Winning American Wines
The latest in the continuing, if rather pointless, taste-offs
pitting American versus French wines saw the Americans winning on
France's home court. An "official jury" of eight Frenchman and a
woman prominent in wine and food circles compared six chardonnay
wines from California and four from Burgundy, then turned to six
cabernet sauvignon from California and four from Bordeaux. The
winner, white and red: Chateau Montelena, 1973, and Stag 's Leap
Wine Cellars 1973.
Both are small vineyards with limited productions. Their wines
are expensive, though that is a moot point for the Montelena as it
is no longer available in Washington. Other wines from the vineyard
may be found at Woodley Liquors, 3423 Connecticut Ave. NW and
Harry's Liquors, 401 M St. SW. A limited quantity of the Stagg's
Leap is on sale at Morris Miller Liquors, 7804 Alaska Ave. NW. The
price per bottle is $7.89.
The tasting was held at L'Academie du Vin, a wine school in
Paris. According to its directors, Englishman Steven Spurrier and
American Patricia Gallagher, the event was not "a competitive
tasting, but an opportunity to acknowledge that a young vineyard
area can produce top-quality wines, given the same love, interest,
skill, and money that has been lavished on European vineyards for
centuries." The American entries-all from California-were hand
picked and transported to Paris.
The jury included the sommelier of La Tour d'Argent, the owners
of two other three-star restaurants, Taillevent and Le Grand
Vefour, two wine scientists, two wine journalists and owners of
Bordeaux's Chateau Giscours and Burgundy 's Domaine de la
The order of finish, including the scoring of Spurrier and
Gallagher, was as follow: (F) denotes French.
Chardonnay: Chateau Montelena, (F) Meursault-Charmes '73
(Roulot), Chalone Vineyards '74, Spring Mountain '73, Freemark
Abbey '72, (F) Batard Montrachet (Ramonet-Prudhon),
(F)Puligny-Montrachet "Les Pucelles" (Leflaive), (F)Beaune-Clos des
Mouches '73(Drouhin), Veedercrest '72, David Bruce '73.
Cabernet sauvignon: Stag 's Leap, (F)Chateau Mouton Rothschild
'70, (F)Chateau Montrose '70, (F) Chateau Haut-Brion '70, Ridge
"Mountain Range" '71, (F)Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases '71, Heitz
Cellar "Martha's Vineyard" '70, Clos du Val '72, Chateau Mayacamas
'71, Freemark Abbey '69.