I suppose that would have be the chant resonating from the crowd had there been a crowd at the Judgment in Paris tasting in 1976. Can’t you just picture all the American wine fans dressed in red, white and blue, wearing face paint, proudly donning their Uncle Sam hats and holding up wine glasses like the Statue of Liberty holding her torch? Oh yeah…it would be quite a sight if it was held today. I was browsing through Twitter the other day and read a tweet about the tasting that Steven Spurrier (the original) had organized in Paris some 38 years ago in hopes of drumming up business for his barely surviving wine shop. It also happened that I was teaching a wine class yesterday to a local culinary school and part of the class always covers the importance of this tasting to the rise in stature of Napa Valley (California) wines. So as I was racking my brain to come up with an idea to blog about, I looked over and saw my copy of the book, Judgment of Paris, written by George Taber, chronicling this historic event…voilà!!
So most of you reading this should be familiar with the story of how Spurrier thought this French wine versus Napa Valley wine competition, held at the time of our bicentennial, would create a buzz and bring notice to his business. He was as shocked at the eventual outcome, as was the all-French panel of judges. He had no way of knowing that this blind tasting–this sort of marketing gimmick–would in reality become the driving force in bringing worldwide notice to the wines being made here in the US of A. So although many of you think of that other Steven Spurrier as your hero, this somewhat snobby, somewhat anti-American wine drinker, somewhat pretentious, British Steven Spurrier had more influence on the development of our country's wine industry than many names far more familiar to you. So, sorry Mr. Mondavi, Jackson, Tchelistcheff and so many others, but had this event not taken place, all that great work you had done may have gone largely unnoticed for many more years. Robert Mondavi had relentlessly knocked on doors of the greatest American restaurants of the day, trying to get his and other Napa Valley wines on wine lists to no avail. “Our guests don’t want American wines,” was the standard response. Well, that all changed after the world read that wines from Napa Valley beat out Léoville Las Cases, Mouton, Leflaive, Haut Brion and others. Now the doors were open to Mondavi, Winiarski, Barret…even before they could knock on them. The famous restaurants in New York, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago were clamoring to get their hands on Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (the two wines that won the tasting) and other miraculously delicious Napa Valley wines.
If held today, the event would be produced as some kind of reality series, “Winemaking with the Stars” or some other overblown production–so glad it happened how it did, when it did. If you haven’t read the book, Judgment of Paris by George Taber, it would be the perfect Christmas gift for the wine lovers on your Christmas list…along with some wines from ABC of course!!
Ken Amendola, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwinekena