Californians Age Better, Wine Tasters Decide

Sunday, May 28, 2006

California vintners have a lot of reasons to thank their lucky bottles of 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.

The state's winemaking business was a shadow of the $26 billion industry it is today when, in 1976, that vintage took top honors at a Paris tasting event, shocking oenophiles who had always thought French wine was the pinnacle of fruity sophistication.

Even so, connoisseurs have long maintained that French wines age better than their New World cousins.

Not anymore. On the 30th anniversary of the Paris tasting last week, panels of judges in London and Napa Valley sipped from the same vintages the Paris panel sampled in 1976.

Warren Winiarski, one of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' family owners, was "happy and proud" that his wine came out No. 2 this time.

Another California vintage, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello cabernet sauvignon, took first place.

Besides his winemaking abilities, Winiarski is blessed with foresight: In 1976, he planned ahead. "I went out and bought back as many cases as I could find," he said. "My partners at the time could not understand why. . . . We were just starting out, and cash flow was important. I'm glad now I did that. We were lucky."

-- Sonya Geis

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