If there’s a red wine that can stand beside the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay in terms of historical, cultural, and viticultural significance, it’s the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon.
This red wine vintage from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley in California broke the glass ceiling in the context of fine wines produced outside of France. Together with the white wine blend from Chateau Montelena, the SLV Cabernet Sauvignon put Napa Valley and the United States on the world wine map.
Painting France Red
Forty years ago, in a blind wine taste test in Paris, California and the US scored two major victories, one of which was the 1973 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon. The vintage bested hundreds of other reds in the whole competition. It won first place in the finals of the competition, where it went up against 10 top wines from France and the US.
That out-of-nowhere victory by California was a sweet one, especially since the US alcohol industry was still recovering from Prohibition at that time. Moreover, back then, France was revered as the premier (and the only legitimate) producer of fine wines in the world.
The win shattered the idea of French exclusivity and opened plenty of opportunities not only for the winery, but also for California, the US, and other now-major wine regions around the world.
With backlash from French and other critics, another wine tasting was held 20 months following the Paris tasting. This was due, in part, to claims by critics that French wines age better than California blends. The San Francisco Wine Tasting of 1978 was a re-tasting of the same wines.
The 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon was again awarded the top prize by a different set of judges.
A Taste of American History
The result of what is now known as the ‘Judgment of Paris’ has since become an important chapter in American history, both for the wine industries and the nation as a whole.
Decanter described the win as “a victory that put California on the winemaking map, and established Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as a global superstar.”
Paul Lukacs, James Beard award winner and wine writer, added that the the win by the SLV Cabernet Sauvignon and the Montelena Chardonnay “enabled not only the United States but also Australia, South America, and the rest of the New World to emerge as legitimate sources of increasingly superior wines."
Because of the significance of the win, a bottle of the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cellars has been placed into the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Following the results of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, the US wine industry experienced significant growth. Between 1975 and 2004, the number of wineries in California alone grew from 330 to 1,689. On top of that, California has been pouring in the majority of US annual revenue from wine exports since 2004.
1973 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon Technical Sheet
The 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon is made of about 93% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 5.3% Merlot, and 1% Pinot Noir. The dry red wine was fermented in oak barrels for 21 months and only 1900 cases were made. Interestingly, these wine bottles only sold for about $6.
40th Anniversary Vintage
There is no known official tasting note of the 1973 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon, but the winery dedicated their 2013 vintage to honour the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris.
The 2013 vintage comes with a commemorative label replicating the original 1973 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon.
“The fact that the 2013 vintage was one of the best in Napa Valley makes the release of the 40th Anniversary vintage even more special,” said Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar vintner Marcus Notaro.
Forty years on, California continues to grow its root and produce world-class blends. When the judges at the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting clinked their wine glasses, it was a ringing sound heard around the world.