On May 24, 1976, a selection of the some biggest names in French wine gathered at the InterContinental Hotel in Paris for an afternoon of wine tasting. The event was billed as a head to head blind tasting between some of the top producers in France and California.
Journalists for all the major publications were invited to attend the event, but only one, George M. Taber, accepted that invitation.
29 years later he chronicled the events of that day in his book “Judgement of Paris, California vs. France and The Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine“.
In the book, Taber goes beyond the tasting itself and instead focuses on telling the stories of the individuals behind the tasting. From Steven Spurrier, who was the key architect in organizing the event to the larger than life individuals responsible for producing the California wines that shook the wine world that day.
To help highlight the significance of the event Taber also takes the reader for a brief but detailed journey through the complicated nature of the French wine industry, complete with all the politics, history, and the key players.
Also included is the almost unbelievable story behind how the California wine industry came to be. For me personally, this was the most interesting part of the book. The almost seemingly rags to riches stories of how the wineries that participated in the event came to be at times read like a made for TV movie.
This is all done to set up the reader for the tasting itself. Taber reflects back on what he witnessed that day, the confusion & shock as the tasters struggled to identify which wines were French and which were California and their dismay when the winning wines were announced.
The results of that tasting have had a lasting impact on wine in general. It brought forward the fact that other countries might be making quality wine. Taber closes out the book talking about this very fact. He discusses what is happening in other countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Chile, South Africa, and Portugal. He also included a summary of what has happened in Bordeaux and Napa Valley since that historic day.
I enjoyed this book way more than I originally thought I would. I always knew I would enjoy it and was looking forward to learning more about that day. However, by focusing on the individuals involved, Taber provides a touching personal touch to the book. You as the reader actually find yourself beginning to feel for these people and actively start to root for them.
If you’re interested in the history of wine at all I highly recommend you give this book a read.