JUDGEMENT OF PARIS: A DAY THAT CHANGED THE

WINE WORLD 

On May 24, 1976 a tasting was held in Paris timed to coincide with the 200th Anniversary of US independence.

 

The French, who actively helped the Americans to fight the British for independence, wanted to emphasize the mutual respect and friendship between two nations. But, unfortunately for the French, this tasting turned out to be  not at all friendly.

But first things first.

A vintner from London Stephen Sparrier and his wife moved to Paris in 1970.  Thanks to modest inheritance, he was in no hurry and was spending his time looking around. Once he noticed a small wine store, hidden on narrow old street.

He liked the store from the first glance – it was cozy and had its unique atmosphere, Stephen especially liked its name -  Les Caves de la Madeleine. The store was for sale. Its owner Madame Fougeres could not – and did not want to - manage  the business after his husband's death. Actually the business itself was fine with her, but the store was involved in bulk sales for further bottling and it was physically very hard for her – she just could not raise barrels from the cellar.

The first offer though was refused – she actually did not want to leave the place she loved. Other then that the potential buyer was an Englishman!

 

But the buyer did not give up and improved his offer – he was now offering her himself, as an assistant, ready to work for free. This terms were accepted. In only 6 monthes Madame Fougeres got to know his new employee so well that she agreed to sell him a store. As for Stephen Sparrier he used this time to settle himself in Paris, to learn French and to made new  acquaintances. He also change his name to one sounded much more French-like and became Steven Spurrier.

He established a wine school for English-speaking residents of Paris, which greatly increased the popularity of his store. The consuls and ambassadors of Britain and the United States became his frequent visitors , and soon once Steven Spurrier  began to advise the British consulate on wine purchases. In 1974 when Queen Elizabeth II was going to visit France, it was Spurrier who made the wine list for the Queen’s reception.

At the beginning of 1975, Steven Spurier decided to participate in coming celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the independence of the United States. His idea was to organize in Paris a tasting of the best Californian wines and introduce absolutely unknown in France  wine region.

To arrange this Spurrier spent several month in California tasting samples and visiting wineries. Subsequently, his idea has transformed into something else. Namely, his plan now was not to just have a usual presentation of Californian wines but to have a comparative tasting of the best Californian and French wines. On this first stage  two most common grape varieties were selected: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

It took almost a year for all participants to work out the details. On the eve it appeared that  journalists did not have any interest to the event. The only journalist from British Times  was present on the tasting day. From the other hand the selection of judges was beyond any praise. There were several restaurateurs, sommeliers as well as winemakers from Chateau Montrose and Romanee-Conti and representatives of the wine trading companies.

Same highly ranked was the choice of French wines - red wines were presented by Chateau Mouton-Rotschild, Chateau Giscours, Chateau Leoville Las Cases and Chateau Haut-Brion,  while whites wines – by Puligny-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Beaune Clos de Mouches.

Californian winemakers brought six samples of each kind. Nobody knew nothing about these wines in Paris. The only rumor widely circulated was that Russians somehow connected to Californian wine-producers. And that one of them -  Andre Tchelistcheff - was actually a guy advised all major US winemakers.

Steven Spurier was skeptical about the result of coming tasting – all in all what wines could compete with the wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy? Perhaps, some names from Rioja or Piedmont, but definitely not from California…

The results of  tasting held on  May 24, 1976 blew up the French wine community.

Both first prixes for white abd red got the wines from California - Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap. Thanks to George Taber, the only journalist present, this tasting acquired the sound name – Judgement of Paris.

May 24, 1976 became the date of the beginning of the end of the French and European in the world of  wines - new star was born.

As for Steven Spurrier, he immediately became an enemy to many French. Nobody cared that he had only managed the event, and that it were French themselves making decisions and evaluating wines…

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