This day in History – May 24, 1976 – The Judgment of Paris

It may not have been a beauty contest among goddesses that would lead to an elopement, a 10 year war, the destruction of an ancient city and the eventual formation of the Eternal City.  But this was equally momentous.  On this day the snobbery sustaining the French wine industry took a body blow.  A British wine dealer in Paris decided to have a taste test between wines from Napa California and France.  To the surprise of everyone present French wines did not blow the New World upstarts out of the water and an American Chardonnay won the wine tasting – later termed the Judgment of Paris.  Worse in a series of embarrassing quotes the judges were not aware if they were drinking a French or American wine at a given time. One petulant judge who ranked two American wines at the top tried to demand the return of the ballot.

Now there are some legitimate criticisms of the Judgment of Paris, notably the fact that averaging the scores to declare a winner when there were no set guidelines on how scoring points were to be avoided was statistically flawed.  But the salient point was that French wines no longer had the automatic presumption of superiority.  The French wine industry ignored the taste test and in coming decades its industry would lose ground to more New World upstarts.

The Judgment of Princeton in 2012 must have really stung when wines from (gasp!!!) New Jersey appeared to hold their own against French wines.  Recent studies have shown that the entire industry is ultimately based on a terroir of crap.  Most drinkers including many so called experts struggle to distinguish cheap and expensive wines (the ones generally rated higher) in taste tests.  And the perception of quality i.e. putting a cheaper wine in a bottle with an expensive label may raise wine ratings and the drinker’s satisfaction.

But then to each his own.  The 300% markup helps keep your favorite restaurant in business.

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