A Bottle of the California Wine That Won the Famed 1976 'Judgment of Paris' Just Sold for a Record Price

The 1973 Stag's Leap Cabernet helped earn California's wine country global credibility in a momentous blind taste test.

Close up of label on 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo: Courtesy of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Part of what makes wine collecting so amazing is that each bottle is drinkable history. Sure, the wines evolve as they age — meaning that 1945 Romanée-Conti won't taste the same as it did in the aftermath of World War II — but it's literally the same liquid. So though you might not actually drink a bottle of wine that was intended for Napoleon or salvaged from a World War I shipwreck, you could, and that's pretty incredible.

In fact, even one of the most important bottlings in the history of wine can still be tasted, despite preparing for its 50th anniversary, and a bottle was just sold at auction last week: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine that put California wine on the map by prevailing over its French competitors at the Judgment of Paris.

As a recap, during the "judgment," which took place in 1976, this 1973 Stag's Leap Cab was selected by a group of French wine judges as the best red during a blind tasting of both American and French wines organized by British wine expert Steven Spurrier. A Napa Valley Chardonnay also topped the white wine category, and the event as a whole is regarded as the turning point for the reputation of California wines. A bottle of the 1973 Stag's Leap is even a part of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History.

And yet, you too can still judge a bottle of 1973 Stag's Leap Cab for yourself, assuming you have an extra $12,300. That's how much a bottle sold for — the most ever for the vintage, and three times the previous high price — at Heritage Auctions' Wine Signature Auction held in Beverly Hills on March 10 and 11.

It's not clear how many unopened bottles are still out there, however, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, which provided the bottle for this auction, apparently only has a "handful" remaining.

"Each vintage, we set aside a small amount of our production to age and enjoy over time," Marcus Notaro, winemaker for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, stated. "This auction was the first time we've opened up our library at this level, and we are thankful to all the collectors and bidders who turned out and showed the pent-up demand for our high quality and age-worthy wines."

Meanwhile, Frank Martell, senior director of fine and rare wines at Heritage Auctions, suggested that the lessons learned in 1976 are still true to this day. "With this auction, the two most expensive Cabernet-based wines produced in the last 61 years are wines from California, not France, including the first vintage of Screaming Eagle that sold at Heritage Auctions last September for $14,760," he stated. "And, most important, with this auction we have single-handedly affirmed the Judgment of Paris — again."

As for the future of this record-setting bottle, the anonymous winning bidder said they planned to give it to their wine collector father for his birthday, adding, "This is very special for us." No word on if they plan to judge it for themselves.

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