As I watched the Inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the US last week, I started thinking about great wines, attached to famous Presidents. We have to start with Thomas Jefferson, the third incumbent, who developed his love of wine whilst being based in Paris in the 1780’s. Part of his supposed collection was discovered a few years ago, causing not a little controversy about its authenticity.
Joe Biden entered public office as a Senator in 1973, the same year that one particular American wine was born which three years later, went on to topple the famous Bordeaux Chateau, at the “Judgement of Paris”. I am of course talking about the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, an American wine legend!
To understand how we got to that point, we have to go back to 1970, when Warren Winiarski, a political scientist from Chicago, bought land in Napa, which later became known as the “Stag’s Leap” district. Vines were planted in the same year and the first vintage was produced in 1972. The 1973 vintage was an excellent growing season in Napa, with the harvest commencing in late September, after some heat spikes, coupled with cooler temperatures in August.
The wine was blended with a certain amount of Merlot and then aged firstly in stainless steel tanks, then in oak casks. The final blend was assembled by hand and released in July 1975.
At the now famous ‘Judgement of Paris’, organised by English wine critic Steven Spurrierin 1976, a number of what was then regarded as the top red and white wines from Napa, were reviewed blind by an assembly of critics and sommeliers from France. The Napa reds were up against the “aristocrats” of Bordeaux, including Mouton Rothschild, Montrose and Leoville Las-Cases. What was supposed to happen, was an easy victory for the long-established wines of France! However, when the blind scores were added up, the Californian wines had triumphed overall, with the Stag’s Leap ’73, coming top in a number of classes. The result sent shockwaves through the wine industry, with some French critics criticising the result and some newspapers being unwilling to publish the story in France!
In 1999, the English critic Michael Broadbent said of the Stag’s Leap ’73:
“A very fragrant spicy bouquet, [the wine] was sweet, though the tannins were still raw. For its age, it was still pretty good”.
At a re-run of the tasting thirty years later in 2006, Jancis Robinson MW, called it “Subtle, but not especially intense. Hints of oyster shells, lovely lift, really racey. No tannin management, but great integrity and life.”
Regardless of how the wine tasted in ’99 and ’06, the result of the ‘Judgement of Paris’, was a line in the sand and the moment that Californian wine started to be properly noticed and taken seriously on the world stage. “Stag’s Leap” now holds legendary status in the wine world, with some American wines the most sought after for collectors and wine aficionados. Think “Screaming Eagle”, “Opus One” and “Scarecrow” commanding huge premiums, and taking centre stage in anyone’s wine collection!
We don’t know if Joe Biden celebrated with a bottle of wine on Inauguration day, and if he did, what he chose, but we do know that in the same year he entered public service, a wine was born which changed the balance in the fine wine world.