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  • Writer's pictureDiane Denham

“The Last Judgment” – Full Coverage of the Tasting Reenactment 41 Years On

Wine Kingdom Magazine

By Kotaro HAYAMA

Published June 2017

English translation:

In May 2017, a judging panel convened for a historical reenactment of the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” at the Tokyo American Club.

On May 24, 1976, Englishman Steven Spurrier organized a tasting event in Paris to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States of America. California wines staged a stunning upset with the red Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and white Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay, in a crushing defeat of France's best wines that sent shockwaves around the world. It unraveled the binding spell of “France is wine, and wine is France,” prompting the emergence of high-quality new world wines.

Embarrassed, the French made excuses like “Bordeaux wines must be aged to have true value.” Thus, a rematch was held in New York ten years later in 1986 with the same reds. And California won again (whites were not included as they were considered past their prime). The third tasting was held with the same reds once again 30 years to the day from the first “Judgment of Paris,” but this time in London. And California won again. And now here we are at the Tokyo tasting. Reenacted with the same wines from the original event but this time in the presence of first-time winner Warren Winiarski, maker of the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars wine. Given the lifespan of the wines and difficulty procuring them, this will probably be the last event of its kind.

The judges numbered nine — the same as the original “Judgment of Paris” — and included wine experts and lovers from the US, France, and Japan. At the 1976 judgment, wines were awarded a maximum of five points each for color, aroma, flavor, and balance, for a total of 20 points. On this occasion, wines could be awarded up to 20 points based entirely on personal preference. Of the ten wines tasted, the oldest was a 1969 Freemark Abbey wine at 48 years old. Every wine had rich color and a youthful appearance. I was shocked by the superb condition of the wines.

A hush spread through the venue when tasting began, as soon as the first wine came out. Only the incessant sound of camera shutters could be heard. Tension and the aroma of wine filled the room, and despite the tense atmosphere, the judges looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

After tabulating the results, first place went to 1969 Freemark Abbey. Having placed last in Paris in 1976, it was completely vindicated in Tokyo. The judges were full of praise saying many times how surprised they were at how lively all the wines were, and that their lasting impressions are not of the competition between California and France as much as by the exquisite nature of all the wines.

The “Judgment of Paris” was the trigger for the emergence of high-quality new world wines, and it came to a dramatic finale right before the eyes of first-time champion Winiarski. The “Judgment of Paris” became “The Last Judgment” in a delectably perfect rematch.

Judging Panel

Don Weaver Estate Director, Harlan Estate

Eddie Ghelsman Owner, The Wine Library and WHOA Farm Winery

Alexandre Jean CEO and Sommelier, Les Facons D’Alexandre

Yves Ringler Owner and Sommelier, Le Terroir Wine Bistro

Yoshiki Tsuji Representative, Tsuji Culinary Institute

Kunio Tokuoka CEO and Executive Chef, KYOTO KITCHO

Nobuhide Tani Executive Chef Sommelier, Hotel New Otani

Keiko Murata President and CEO, The Wine Kingdom

(Photo caption) Judges engage in blind tasting

PAGE 2 (left-hand side)

The First Winner of “The Judgment of Paris”

Three Mentors

One of the most dramatic events in wine’s 6000-year history is known as the “Judgment of Paris.” I interviewed the first winner of that event, the maker of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon, Warren Winiarski. Born in 1928, he is now 89 years old, but his passion for wine has never waned.

Coincidentally, both Winiarski, who made the winning red, and Mike Grgich, who made the winning white, apprenticed in their novice days to Lee Stewart (Souverain Cellars Founder), Andre Tchelistcheff (wine consultant), and Robert Mondavi (Owner, Robert Mondavi Winery). I asked Winiarski about these three.

“Stewart hammered into me the importance of paying attention to every minor detail. For example, think about the direction of the wood grain when returning the bung to a barrel. Tchelistcheff was an absolute poet despite being a scientist with a penchant for accuracy. And Mondavi was constantly looking to the future of the California wine industry and winemaking.”

I Was Blessed by Chance

A lecturer at the University of Chicago, Winiarski turned his back on a stable life, packing his family and everything he owned into his car and heading for Napa in 1964. His story ties into a loose translation of Chapter 11 of the Judgment of Paris: “University professors don’t typically like to gamble. But Winiarski bet his whole future on a winery which could go either way. The future of California was also on the line.” I asked about the winery and his gamble.

“A gamble is when you have no information and no input. With risks, you know what you’re doing and you’re in control. I took a risk. But…”, and for a second he stared off into the distance.

“I was blessed by chance. On the way from Chicago to Napa just as we crossed over into California, our car broke down. It was a message from the gods that ‘you can’t turn back now.’ The Mondavi brothers had been quarrelling and when Peter and Robert parted ways, Tchelistcheff pushed for me to have a role at Robert’s winery. The fact that the land I was eyeing next to “Fay” went on sale was also good luck, and the Bank of America lent me capital to establish the winery, seeing a great future for the wine industry. It was Robert Finigan, a famous wine critic at the time, who recommended my wine to Spurrier. Sheer luck led to Time magazine reporter George Taber, who had some time to kill, joining the “Judgment of Paris,” and it was most fortunate that his French comprehension was such that he could capture the judges’ comments for the article.”

Only some people see chances for what they are. Winiarski saw the chances and turned them into successes.

With wineries and marriages, the difficulty is not in getting started but in keeping them going. I had to ask the hard questions, so next I probed him about the sale of Stag’s Leap.

“It’s all about timing. I thought about it for ten years and sought the opinions of many. It’s just that the time came to make the sale. Again, it was about chance,” he said with conviction. But he did seem a little forlorn. Speaking quietly and carefully choosing his words, he is the true picture of a philosopher. Fifty years ago, a philosopher became a winemaker and changed wine’s history forever. With visits to a Yamanashi winery during his stay in Japan, passion still drives him.

Born 1928 in Chicago, USA. After working as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, he established Stag’s Leap Vineyard in 1970 and opened Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 1973. Sold Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 2007. Started grape cultivation at Arcadia, which he purchased in 1996.

Winiarski, maker of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon – the winning wine at the “Judgment of Paris” – quietly presides over the judging, with a deeply emotional expression on his face.

“Judgment of Paris” Reenactment in Tokyo Judging Panel Results

1st Freemark Abbey 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon

2nd Mayacamas 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon

3rd Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1970

4th Ridge 1971 Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello

5th Chateau Montrose 1970

6th Chateau Haut Brion 1970

7th Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon

8th Clos du Val 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon

9th Heitz Cellars 1970 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

10th Chateau Leoville Las Cases 1971

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