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On May 24, 1976, the Judgment of Paris pitted some of the finest wines in France against unknown California bottles in a blind taste test. Nine of the most respected names in French gastronomy sat in judgment.

It was the tasting that revolutionized the wine world.

Forty years ago today, the crème de la crème of the French wine establishment sat in judgment for a blind tasting that pitted some of the finest wines in France against unknown California bottles. Only one journalist bothered to show up — the outcome was considered a foregone conclusion.

“Obviously, the French wines were going to win,” says George Taber, who was then a correspondent for Time magazine in Paris. He says everyone thought “it’s going to be a nonstory.”

Taber did attend, as a favor to the organizers. And he ended up getting the biggest story of his career: To everyone’s amazement, the California wines — red and white — beat out their French competitors.

“It turned out to be the most important event, because it broke the myth that only in France could you make great wine. It opened the door for this phenomenon today of the globalization of wine,” Taber says.

The Judgment of Paris, as that May 24, 1976, wine tasting has come to be known, began as a publicity stunt. Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who owned a wine shop in Paris, wanted to drum up business. So, prompted by Patricia Gallagher, his American associate, Spurrier decided to stage a competition that highlighted the new California wines they’d been hearing so much about.

Spurrier tapped nine of the most respected names in French gastronomy for the job. They included sommeliers from the best French restaurants in Paris, the head of a highly regarded French vineyard, and Odette Kahn, the editor of the influential Revue du vin de France (The French Wine Review).

As the sole journalist present, Taber had a lot of access, and he had a list of the order of the wines being served during the tasting. The judges didn’t. He watched as they swirled and spat.

At one point, Taber says, a judge — Raymond Oliver, chef and owner of Le Grand Véfour, one of Paris’ great restaurants — sampled a white. “And then he smelled it, then he tasted it and he held it up again, [and] he said, “Ah, back to France!” Taber recalls.

Patricia Gallagher (from left), who first proposed the tasting; wine merchant Steven Spurrier; and influential French wine editor Odette Kahn. After the results were announced, Kahn is said to have demanded her scorecard back. “She wanted to make sure that the world didn’t know what her scores were,” says George Taber, the only journalist present that day.

Except it was a Napa Valley chardonnay. The judge didn’t know that. “But I knew,” Taber says. And once he realized what was happening, Taber says, “I thought, hey, maybe I got a story here.” Decades later, he penned The Judgment of Paris, an account of that day and its aftermath.

When the scores were tallied, the top honors went not to France’s best vintners but to a California white and red — the 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and the 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. (A bottle of each now resides at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.)

Taber says the results shocked everyone. When it was over, Kahn unsuccessfully demanded her scorecard back — according to Taber, “she wanted to make sure that the world didn’t know what her scores were.”

Wine writer David White says the tasting was a major turning point for the industry. “The 1976 judgment totally changed the game,” says White, who runs the popular wine blog Terroirist and is the author of the forthcoming book But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine.

While winemaker Robert Mondavi played a major role in making California the wine powerhouse it is today, the Paris tasting was equally influential, White says. As the late Jim Barrett, part owner of Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena, told Taber back in 1976, the results were “not bad for kids from the sticks.”

And it wasn’t just California that was transformed. The results “gave winemakers everywhere a reason to believe that they too could take on the greatest wines in the world,” White says.

In the aftermath of the tasting, new vineyards bloomed around the U.S. (think Oregon, Washington and Virginia) and the world — from Argentina to Australia.

The Judgment of Paris prompted the world’s winemakers to start sharing and comparing in a way they hadn’t done before, says Warren Winiarski, the Polish-American founder of Stag’s Leap, whose cabernet sauvignon took top honors among the reds in Paris.

As a result, he said at a recent Smithsonian event in honor of that long-ago tasting, “the wines of the world are better, the wines of France are better.”

Which means the world’s wine lovers were the real winners that day.

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I have 18 acres of land that currently has no purpose other than providing a very pretty view.

I’m looking at Alpacas, both for the value of their fur, which is a once a year proposition and their grass eating capabilities. The land is quite steep and hence has limited uses other than some form of livestock. I’m not a chap that could send anything off to be killed, so it has to be that the chaps will be grazing on the grass long-term.

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I woke up today, with nothing to do. No studying for degrees or courses, no trial prep, no work. This is the first day, in 4.5 years, that I have nothing to do today.

Obviously I am going to ride the bike if the weather holds, the past 2 days have been glorious, so fingers crossed.

Tomorrow I’m back to work, so I’ll enjoy today.

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We have finished all the witnesses. This was completed yesterday, today, we give oral and written closing submissions.

I have been up pretty much all night finishing and referencing the submissions.

We have a pretty good case, and we did win the first case, so I am hopeful that we can make it home once again.

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So yesterday was day 1 of the trial.

Opposing counsel had written opening submissions, which she read. I on the other hand had memorised my opening submissions and presented them orally. The Judge seemed to like that.

My client was the first witness to give evidence. No matter how much you coach them prior to this, something always goes wrong.

Anyway, stuff went wrong when the opposing counsel cross-examined. I had stuff to fix during the re-examination and I was dancing a fine line between legitimate re-examination and re-leading evidence-in-chief. I got away with it, I was challenged twice, but fought off both objections.

That was the tough part of the case for me. Cross examination of the opposing witnesses is always easier.

I’m still trying to finish closing submissions.

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I am in court all week defending a decision that I won a year ago in the Employment Authority. The case is scheduled to last all week, possibly extending into next week. I think that we will probably manage to conclude it this week.

I’m currently working on my closing submissions. All last week I was at work, trying to earn back some of the money I had lost during the completion of the ‘Legal Professionals’ course, more on that another day.

So, of course I am behind schedule, which is why I was up at 0300hrs typing up submissions that I have been working on all w/e.

I work better in the mornings, I know after a day in court [today] I won’t be in any state to write coherent submissions, therefore, some early mornings for me this week until they are complete. Not too far off.

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I have just, 5 mins ago, finished the ‘Professionals’ course for lawyers in NZ. It has taken 3 months and has drained me of energy coming as it did immediately after completing the law degree.

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