Judgment of Paris

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9780743297325: Judgment of Paris

The only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976—a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France’s best—for the first time introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine.

The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. At this legendary contest—a blind tasting—a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France’s best.

George M. Taber, the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks—repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. With an eclectic cast of characters and magnificent settings, Judgment of Paris is an illuminating tale and a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old.

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About the Author:

George M. Taber is the author of Judgment of Paris, the 2006 wine book of the year for Britain's Decanter magazine. His second book, To Cork or Not to Cork, won the Jane Grigson Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals and was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for best book on wine and spirits and the Andre Simon Award for best wine book. Before turning to writing wine books, Taber was a reporter and editor for Time.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

Was there ever a better job? In the mid-1970s, I was a correspondent for Time magazine in Paris. It was a small office, so I got to write stories on subjects as varied as French politics and haute couture. When a big story broke in one of the countries under the Paris bureau, I jetted off to Madrid to cover the assassination of a Spanish prime minister, to Lisbon to report on a revolution taking place, or to Amsterdam to check into a bribery scandal involving the Dutch queen's husband.

On May 24, 1976, I happened to be in Paris. The previous week I had suggested to editors in New York a story on a wine tasting that was doing the unthinkable: comparing some of the greatest names in French wines with new and little-known California wines. It seemed like a nonevent -- clearly France would win -- but as a native Californian, I had developed an interest in wine and had tried to learn something about European wines while studying or working in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and, of course, France.

Each week Time correspondents around the world suggest hundreds of stories. Only a few of the proposals are scheduled and even fewer ever make it to press. It's a fierce survival-of-the-fittest process, but the result is a lively, compelling publication. Although my story was scheduled, I knew that the odds of it getting into the magazine were long. If, as expected, the French wines won, there would be no story. But you never know, and a wine tasting -- where maybe I'd get a chance to try a few of the wines myself -- seemed, at the very least, like a perfectly wonderful way to spend an otherwise slow afternoon.

The event was taking place at the InterContinental Hotel, not far from the Time office just off the Champs-Élysées. In winter I might have taken the Métro there, but it was a beautiful spring day, so instead I walked through the immaculate gardens lining the grand boulevard toward the Place de la Concorde. I considered this the most beautiful part of the world's most beautiful city. There were monumental buildings, elegant people, and an exciting hustle and bustle. This was the epicenter of the city Gershwin put to music in An American in Paris. I strolled past the American embassy and the Egyptian obelisk nicknamed Cleopatra's Needle in the Place de La Concorde to the Rue de Rivoli, and then under its arcades lined with fashionable shops displaying their wares. The InterContinental, located on the Rue de Castiglione and bordered by the Rue de Rivoli and the majestic Place Vendôme, was one of the most fashionable hotels in Paris. It reeked of class and luxury.

A hotel doorman directed me to the small, elegant room off the hotel's patio bar where the tasting was to take place. As I entered, waiters in tuxedos were busily setting up the event, laying out tablecloths and distributing glasses. I knew the organizers of the tasting, Englishman Steven Spurrier, who owned a nearby wine shop called the Caves de la Madeleine, and his sidekick Patricia Gallagher, an American. I had taken an introductory wine course taught by Gallagher at the Académie du Vin, a wine school associated with the shop. Her personal plea was one of the reasons I had agreed to cover the tasting, which was designed to garner some publicity for the shop and school, but they were having a hard time getting any publications to take it seriously. In fact, I was the only journalist who showed up. After saying hello to Gallagher, I started taking notes in the brown plastic-covered book that I always carried with me.

Soon the nine judges began arriving. I knew none of them personally, but they had impeccable credentials and were among the leading wine experts in France. With the quiet formalism of the French establishment, the judges greeted each other with a handshake and then took their places along the long bank of tables. As this was going to be a blind tasting, meaning the labels of the wines would not be shown, the judges would not know which wines they were tasting. They knew only that the wines were from France and California, and that the red wines were Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignons and the whites were Burgundy-style Chardonnays. Shortly after 3:00 PM, a waiter began walking up and down a row of tables pouring wine from unmarked bottles. The judges had nothing in front of them except a scorecard, two glasses, and a petit pain, a small hard roll for nibbling on to clean the palate between wines. As is common in a wine tasting, the judges started with the white wines.

It was a very informal event, so I was free to roam around the room as the judges tasted the wines. They were a little chattier than is normal at a tasting, where the experts usually quietly concentrate on the work at hand.

About halfway through the white wine part of the competition, I began to notice something quite shocking. I had a list of the wines and realized that the judges were getting confused! They were identifying a French wine as a California one and vice versa. Judges at one end of the tables were insisting that a particular wine was French, while those at the other were saying it was from California.

Raymond Oliver, the owner and chef of the Grand Véfour restaurant in Paris, one of the temples of French haute cuisine, swirled a white wine in his glass, held it up to the light to examine the pale straw color, smelled it, and then tasted it. After a pause he said, "Ah, back to France!" I checked my list of wines twice to be sure, but Oliver had in fact just tasted a 1972 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay from California's Napa Valley! Soon after, Claude Dubois-Millot of GaultMillau, a publisher of French food and wine books and magazines, tasted another white wine and said with great confidence, "That is definitely California. It has no nose." But the wine was really a 1973 Bâtard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon, one of Burgundy's finest products.

Spurrier's Paris tasting might just be an interesting story after all.

Text copyright © 2005 by George M. Taber

Chapter One: The Little Wine Shop in Cité Berryer

If we sip the wine, we find dreams

coming upon us out of the imminent night.

-- D. H. Lawrence

On an autumn day in 1970, two Englishmen were walking around Paris's posh Right Bank near the Rue Royale. Although its glory was in the nineteenth century, luxury still reigns there as an art form in this section made up of the city's First and Eighth arrondissements. The area combines New York City's Park Avenue with Beverly Hills's Rodeo Drive. Within a few blocks are found such restaurants as Maxim's, shops like Hermès and Cartier, and the Ritz, the quintessential ritzy hotel. The Right Bank is a wonderful area for strolling, especially in the fall after most of the tourists have left and the city's pace slows a little. The summer heat is gone, and the chestnut leaves begin to fall.

The two men wandered into Cité Berryer, a street easy to miss because it was only a block long, going from the Rue Royale to the Boissy d'Anglas. Cité Berryer was a slightly seedy shopping arcade that seemed out of place amid all the luxury around it. Built in the nineteenth century, it was named after a then leading, but now long forgotten, politician. Twice a week an open-air, fresh vegetable and fruit market took place there, and fashionable and unfashionable women alike lined up to buy produce for their families. A small wine shop was located next to a locksmith.

As the two men passed the Caves de la Madeleine, a wine shop named after the famous church located two blocks away, one man turned to the other and said, "That is exactly the kind of shop I would like to buy."

Steven Spurrier was a well-to-do son of English landed gentry, who at the age of twenty-nine was still trying to figure out what he was going to do when he grew up. After spending several months living in Provence in southern France, Spurrier had recently moved to Paris, where he and his wife, Bella, resided on a 130-foot barge moored on the River Seine at the Place de la Concorde.

If there was a centerpiece to Spurrier's wandering life, it was wine. In his youth, when other boys were outside playing soccer, he could be found rearranging bottles in the wine cellar at Holbrook Hall, his family's estate in Derbyshire in north-central England. Spurrier worked for a short time for two leading shops in the London wine trade. One of them sent him -- at his own expense -- on a seven-month study tour of wine through France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal.

As Spurrier and his friend, a British lawyer living in Paris, entered the store, the owner, Madame Fougères, asked if she could help them.

"My friend here would like to buy your shop," said the lawyer with British directness.

The idea was not so crazy. The wine shop had actually been quietly for sale for two years, after the owner's husband had committed suicide. His widow had lost interest in running the business, which involved lots of heavy work lifting cases and pushing around barrels of wine. After a few minutes of conversation, the two Englishmen left.

A few days later, Spurrier returned alone to talk to Madame Fougères about buying the shop. She explained that she had a strong emotional tie to the store because it had been her husband's pride -- in fact, his whole life. She was not certain if she would sell it, especially to an Englishman who didn't speak much French, despite his proclaimed interest in her country's most prestigious product. Madame Fougères told Spurrier she doubted he could "carry the torch" for her dead husband. Spurrier then made a proposal. To show he was serious, he would work for her in the store for six months at no pay, doing whatever she asked. It was a deal she could hardly refuse.

So even though he had $250,000 in inheritance money in the bank, Spurrier went to work rolling wine barrels around the store's cellar and delivering cases of wine up s...

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Descrizione libro SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2007. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976-a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France s best-for the first time introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine. The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. At this legendary contest-a blind tasting-a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France s best. George M. Taber, the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks-repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. With an eclectic cast of characters and magnificent settings, Judgment of Paris is an illuminating tale and a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780743297325

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Descrizione libro SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2007. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976-a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France s best-for the first time introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine. The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. At this legendary contest-a blind tasting-a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France s best. George M. Taber, the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks-repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. With an eclectic cast of characters and magnificent settings, Judgment of Paris is an illuminating tale and a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780743297325

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Descrizione libro Simon & Schuster. Paperback. Condizione libro: new. BRAND NEW, Judgment of Paris: Judgment of Paris, George M. Taber, The only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976-a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France's best-for the first time introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine. The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. At this legendary contest-a blind tasting-a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France's best. George M. Taber, the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks-repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. With an eclectic cast of characters and magnificent settings, Judgment of Paris is an illuminating tale and a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old. Codice libro della libreria B9780743297325

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