So, like many other wine writers, we spoke our piece on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Judgment of Paris. The anniversary — two days ago — spawned a great many looks back and a lot of comment about its significance. Even today, the wine press included some analyses concerning the event’s impact.
Though probably too much has already been said about the anniversary, I am impelled to tell of one effect the Judgment had that hasn’t been examined — imitations.
Yes, the event has been replicated over and over, and wine lovers have hosted comparative tastings and dinners ever since, all in good fun to see which wines outpoint each other.
It’s the good fun I want to call attention to. We started doing an occasional France vs California dinner at the Story Inn in southern Indiana some twenty years ago. We did it in several different ways, most often serving a similar wine from each place with each course, sometimes California with one course, French with the next. Mostly we had the wines side-by-side, but in all cases, the diners were not shown nor told which wine was in which glass.
We always paired similar wines — Cabernets with Cabernets, Chardonnays with Chardonnays, etc. We could never distinguish a pattern from one season to the next. Some evenings, more French would be voted best, others the other way. A few diners took it personally if their own preferences failed to garner the highest scores, but all-in-all, participants enjoyed the intrigue and especially the wines.
And that’s what it was all about. Offering opportunities to enjoy wine were the hallmarks of our Story “Judgments.” A lot of people over the years drank a lot of wine and had a jolly good time doing it; and therein lies the greatest achievement of the Judgment of Paris.
In the spring of 1972 I followed an intriguing sign pointing along a cul-de-sac off the Boulevard Madeleine to l’Academie du Vin. The Academy was in a non-descript building either adjacent to or part of a wine shop named Caves Madeleine. While the building had some age on it, the wine shop was new, the Academy newer still. Both were owned by Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who still writes and edits for DECANTER.
For a couple of years, I got to know Steven and his American partner Patricia Gallagher a little bit and enjoyed chatting with them from time to time. I even used Academy materials in some of the wine seminars I was teaching in those days. I knew that Steven had developed an interest in American wines and that all Paris was preparing to celebrate the American bicentennial, but I never dreamed that Steven was about to change the wine world forever.
Forty years ago today, in a private room in the Inter-Continental Hotel on the Place de la Concorde nine judges with impeccable wine credentials gathered to taste and assess Cabernets and Chardonnays from Napa Valley, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. Eight of the judges were French; Spurrier was the only non-French.
Steven had invited the press but no one accepted because it wasn’t a “story.” That the French wines would win easily was not newsworthy. Because of his friendship- with Patricia, George M. Tabor, TIME Magazine, came because he had “nothing else to do” that day.
Judges received little instruction about how to award up to 20 points for each wine. All of the wines would be poured from a neutral bottle, and flights were categorized according to grape variety with no indication as to which were French, which American.
Ever since it was announced that the 1973 Stags Leap had edged out the 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and the 1973 Chateau Montelena had beaten out the 1973 Meursault-Charmes-Roulet, California wines have achieved world-wide fame as well as a place in the American History section of the Smithsonian.
Though it’s a bit unfair to draw too many conclusions from these results, it is totally fair to say that American wines arrived on the world stage on May 24, 1976. There were criticisms, even from a couple of judges, one of whom demanded to have her ballot returned.
I was a friend of one of the judges and acquainted with another. My friend, the late Jean-Claude Vrinat, owner of the wine-famous restaurant, Taillevent, and a lover of the great wines of France agreed with the verdicts and stocked California wines in the shop he started a few years later. Three-Michelin-star chef Raymond Oliver told us he had always liked American wines and had wished they had been more available in Europe.
May 24 has become an important day to me. I do not for one moment believe that the Judgment of Parish diminished French wines in anyway, but it did tell us all that we really do make some good stuff in America. Cheers!
To wine lovers of a certain age, Morley Safer’s death calls up memories of the famed “French Paradox,” made known to Americans on CBS “Sixty Minutes.” When that show aired in 1991, Americans were consumed with preventing heart attacks and discovering that exercise is really good for us.
It was also a time when Julia Child and Jacques Pepin were leading Americans to the discovery of really good food, much of which seemed to pit fine dining against healthy regimens. Enter Morley Safer. In just a few television minutes, from a perch in the Alps at lunch in what was then considered the “world’s finest restaurant,” Safer presented us with evidence that consumption of fat-rich cheeses, pates, and other animal-derived foods and with considerable reticence about exercising, the French experience far fewer cardiac problems than Americans.
Safer’s broadcast included detailed conversations with medical researchers both in the States and in France, who concluded that something neutralized the otherwise harmful effects of dietary fats. Little by little, the research eliminated all but one factor responsible for the cardiac rates — red wine.
At the time I was a colleague of an American doctor doing an internship in the hospital of the University of Strasbourg. He had not heard of the 60 Minutes broadcast, but after I told him abut it, he admitted that the cardiac unit in the Strasbourg hospital was much smaller than would be the case in similar-type hospitals in his home state of California. A few weeks after the broadcast, I asked the chef who had prepared the sumptuous 60 Minutes lunch about the experience. With a shrug and a slight pout, he said he couldn’t understand the drama. To him, the broadcast crew had had just a “normal meal.”
But thanks to the recently departed Morley Safer, a lot of us enjoy without guilt a little red wine every day!OLDER POSTS »