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Wine Wednesday — Napa Valley and the New York Giants: An Underdog Story

Napa Valley Wines
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Gentlemen, welcome to your weekly installment of Wine Wednesdays. Today we are going to learn about the history of how Napa Valley wines became a respected wine region among wine critics around the world.

Napa Valley Wines have become the high watermark of American wines, and for good reason; the most reputable winemakers in America are producing wine in Napa Valley. Napa wine country is also an ideal tourist location, with over 450 wineries in the area, so you can thank them for having to listen to your annoying friends returning from a California trip and yammering about how they’re going to quit their jobs and start a winery. No, I don’t want to see the pictures from your trip to Napa Valley again and stop looking Napa real estate, you’re never going to own a winery.

A Story of Two Underdogs

Napa Valley’s reputation as a wine-growing superpower can be traced back to one event, the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976; a blind tasting competition that pitted Napa’s best Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay against France’s best right bank Bordeaux (a blend made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon) and white Burgundy (an all white Burgundy made with 100% Chardonnay). Think of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 as Super Bowl XLII. Napa Valley is similar to the New York Giants; considered a huge underdog undeserving of mention in the same breathe as the New England Patriots. France had a lot in common with the New England Patriots, it’s the all-star team of wine growing countries.

Luckily for the Giants, Super Bowl XLVI was not played in Foxboro and officiated by a bunch of guys named Sean from Southie. Napa Valley didn’t have this luxury; the Paris Wine tasting of 1976 occurred in Paris (shocker) and all the judges were French. When the results were in, Stag’s Leap Cellar’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay defeated the French behemoths.
With their sense of superiority shattered, both the French and Pats fans started to make up excuses in their equally ridiculous accents. The French argued that French wine needs to age and if the competition used properly aged French wine, the results would be different. Pats fans argued that the Giants victory was pure luck and without Dave Tyree’s hand and helmet catch, they would have never won. For those of you keeping score, Pat’s fans had the dumber argument.

The French and Pats fans both got their chance for revenge. The San Francisco Wine Tasting of 1978 was a blind tasting of all the same wines that were tasted in the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. If the French wines won, it would have been an affirmation of the French argument that the French wines needed to age. Unfortunately for the French, the Napa Valley wines won again. Pats fans thought they would reclaim bragging rights after a win against the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. There was no way the Giants would get another lucky catch. The Giants didn’t need a lucky catch and went on to claim victory.

Want to Recreate the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976?

I wanted to recreate the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 with current vintages of the two Napa Valley wines that won and the two French wines that came in second but my request for $1,600 for four bottles of wine was swiftly denied by my superiors. In the absence of a budget, I have instead compiled a list of current vintages of each wine with their current price and the average score (out of 100) that they received from wine critics:

Stag’s Leap Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Price: $55
Average Wine Critic Score: 95

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2010
Price: $50
Average Wine Critic Score: 91.5

Meursault Charmes Roulot 2008
Price: $300
Average Wine Critic Score: 93

Chateau Mouton-Rothchild 2010
Price: $1,189
Average Wine Critic Score: 99

As you can see, the French wines are stupid expensive; $1,189 for a bottle of wine? I’ve seen better prices for an ounce of Unobtainium (sweet Avatar reference, nerd). The Napa Valley wines are a more affordable option, if you want to try one of the winners from the most famous wine competition ever held. USA, USA!

Drink well gentlemen,
The Wine Guy

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