Judgment of Paris : California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized 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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November 20, 2006
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Excerpt from Judgment of Paris by George M. Taber
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-ýlysýes. In winter I might have taken the Mýtro 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 Vendýme, was one of the most fashionable hotels in Paris. It reeked of class and luxury.