Monday, July 26, 2010


These days wine is made all over the world, but 34 years ago fine wine was presumed to come only from France. And then, on a spring day, somebody held a little contest in a Paris hotel...

In 1976, as part of the French celebration of the U.S. bicentennial, Stephen Spurrier, the British owner of a Paris wine shop, conceived an event he thought would pique interest in French wines and maybe prove them superior once and for all: a blind taste test. France v. California. Bring on the snobs, er... wine tasters.

Guess who took first place. It is a competition so famous (if you're French, infamous) oenophiles commemorate it as the "Judgment of Paris". At first the French ignored the results, then they waved them away as subjective and statistically insignificant, then they insisted that French wines age better. So 30 years later the tasting was restaged, the old bottles dusted off, the judges back for another try. Guess who won again.

Why Hollywood took so long to turn this Cinderella story into a movie I do not know, but now there are two. Unless you're an Alan Rickman fan, don't bother with the first film, Bottle Shock (2009). Instead, bide your time watching Sideways (2005), and cross your fingers that the second movie about the taste test, Judgment of Paris, due out this year, tells the story with the piquancy it deserves.

The winning cabernet is for sale online, and the chardonnay was just auctioned to raise money for Haiti. If you can't spend $2000 on wine, enjoy this sour grape: in 2006 Forbes judged the chardonnay past its prime. (Have a look at both bottles on exhibit at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.)

Books to sip wine by:

Judgment of Paris by George Taber
Academie du Vin Complete Wine Course by Stephen Spurrier
Wine Appreciation by Richard Vine
The Pocket Wine Book
by Hugh Johnson

* pronounced ee-no-FEEL-ya


Anonymous said...

Ah! Love it...check out this movie too: Blood Into Wine, there will be a couple of screenings in Austin at the end of this month/beginning of August. Hopefully the library will get a copy of it!


tim snead said...

I'll look for it, thanks! And I'll send a request to the DVD librarian.

Anonymous said...

California is still generally to be avoided for my limited $$, especially for a budget shopper. For anyone who wants anything other than a lollipop, the best wines come from Europe - France, Italy, Spain and even Germany and Austria - way better in range and depth. "Mondovino" is the globalization horror movie documentary film on the wine business that came out a few years ago if you really want to get into it though. It can be a sleazy business, that's why I got out. Nevertheless, books by Jancis Robinson are excellent and Kevin Zraly's World Wine Course is good.

Steve AHC, wine snob and former wine steward