If you have been following my blog, Facebook or Twitter for a while you probably know that I love to drink wine, especially good wine. I also love to read books and watch movies about wine. One of my all-time favorites in the wine movie genre is Sideways, a movie about a road trip tasting wines in Southern California. If you happen to find it online or on DVD make sure to watch it with a good glass of Californian wine in your hand!
I am a big fan of New World wines, with a preference for Californian Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. For me good wines from these areas top similar priced French wines, although French wines have for a very long time been considered the best wines in the world. As a kid we only drank French wine at home. But if you look at the wines that I stock in my small cellar in China, you’ll see that they are mainly wines from California, Australia and New Zealand – with Alsace wines and Champagnes being the only regular exceptions to the rule.
I have often wondered what exactly happened in the world of wine over the past 30-40 years, especially how New World wines came up and how France started to slowly lose it’s dominance over the global wine market. A few weeks ago Gary gave me a book to read that discusses exactly this topic: Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, by George Taber. The book describes how the California wine industry developed from the 1850s until the early 1970s, especially focusing on the period starting in the 1950s.
Mr. Taber describes the lives of 3 wine makers in detail, following them from their (sometimes very humble) beginnings to their triumphs in making excellent wines, trying to make wines as good as the French ones. At the same time the book describes a British wine merchant in Paris, Steven Spurrier, who decides to host a blind wine tasting between Californian wines and French wines in 1976. The judges were almost all well-known French wine connoisseurs. At that point nobody really doubted that France produced the very best wines in the world, but it turned out that for both the white and the red wines the Californian wines won.
This tasting, which became known as the Judgment of Paris, changed the perception of the world about wines. Not right away, because only a Time magazine reporter (Mr. Taber, the author of the book) covered the event and it took some time before other media picked it up, and many (mainly French) people criticized the results. But eventually the news spread, even in France where the major media dismissed the results.
This event was the beginning of New World wines, and the last part of the book describes what’s happened with wines in among other New Zealand, Australia, Chili and of course California after 1976. Interesting is that the original Time article is available online, although if you don’t have a subscription you can only read the first part. One more reason why I love the Internet, I am sure for many years it was very hard for anybody interested in reading the original piece from 1976, but now it’s just a click away.
Not only would I recommend to read this book, but if you enjoy movies about wine you should also watch the film version of the book, Bottle Shock. Although the story is a bit different from the story in the book, it’s a great movie to watch. It makes you want to set up a vineyard or winery as well, or at the very least it makes you want to open a bottle of good wine while watching the film. Cheers!