Every once in a while, you witness this one, fleeting moment in history, that ends up defining a whole generation. It doesn’t always seem like it at the time, but you can usually tell by the shocked gasps and the loud “oooooh”s that you were in the presence of something truly magnificent.
For example, think of all the lucky people in 1983 who witnessed the Moonwalk for the first time.
Now I want you to think about this for a second. Think about how many people were inspired, and the kind of tsunami that it generated, in both the music industry, and in the minds of kids everywhere who just wanted to sing and dance, who now had an extraordinary role model to look up to.
Something similar happened to the wine world just a few years before that, in 1976. Although it didn’t go as “viral” as the Moonwalk, I think it should have. If you’ve ever drunk a glass of wine from anywhere outside of Europe, it’s fair to assume you owe a part of that pleasure to one seemingly inconspicuous event in Paris.
Dramatically known as the “Judgement of Paris”, it was a blind tasting competition held by this one gentleman called Steven Spurrier.
In a blind tasting, all you’re given is a glass of wine, and all you really know about at that point, it is that it is a glass, and it has wine in it.
It’s all so that your opinion of the wine is as objective as possible. You don’t know which wine it is, you don’t know what grape (or blend of grapes) it’s made from, you don’t know how much it costs, and you don’t know which country made it.
They’re even careful that you don’t accidentally see the shape of the bottle it came in – in short, all the factors that would create some kind of bias while judging the wine.
Now, at that point in time, California was producing good wine, but they were facing a lot of backlash from the European market, and no matter how good their wines were, nobody seemed to take them seriously enough.
So Spurrier took the proverbial lamb to the biggest, baddest slaughterhouse in all the land, and decided to give Californian wines a platform there.
Which brings us back to the Blind Tasting.
This would be a good time to show you precisely what they were up against. Consider this :
- We all know how serious the French are about their wine.
- We now know what opinion they had on Californian wine. It wasn’t a very friendly one.
- The tasting was in the heart of the most French part of France.
- The competition involved some of the colloquial “heavyweight champions” of French wine.
- ALL nine panelists, all experts in the field of wine, were all French.
“… in short, all the factors that would create some kind of bias while judging the wine.”
The wines were duly tasted, judged, and scored, and all the Californian wines were given a lot of snarky, condescending remarks, and recieved mediocre scores.
And every Frenchman was very happy, and every Californian was very sad.
But it’s not like they didn’t expect it. Spurrier himself didn’t expect any of the Californian wines to even reach the Top 5, he just wanted to give them a platform. The media didn’t take much notice of the event either – a singular reporter from Time magazine, a certain George Taber, constituted the entire strength of the media present.
“But wait,” you say. “I thought you said this was historic? What’s so historic about the French winning a competition that was pretty much rigged in their favour?”
I hear you. What would have been truly historic is if California actually ended up winning.
It turned out, many of the wines the judges thought were French, were actually from California. And since the scoring was blind, there was no real way of telling which wine was which, until AFTER all they had been scored.
“Ah, wine number six, so irrefutably, deliciously French….”
“Sir, wine number six was California.”
– One of the panelists, probably.
And if winning once wasn’t dramatic enough, they ended up bagging first place in both the red and white wine categories, and many more Californian wines made it to the top 10.
And thus, Chateau Montelana and Stags Leap Wine Cellars from Napa Valley, California, went down as the guys who made history, by facing the odds and coming out on top against their greatest critics.
It was basically the Real Steel of wine tasting. If you’ve seen the movie (it’s a pretty fun movie), you might begin to understand the odds these guys were facing.
The nobody, the unknown, the underdog, taking on the reigning world champion head on, and winning – it created massive ripples in the ocean of wine that it inspired to grow.
And much like the Moonwalk, it wasn’t a cool thing that just happened – it was responsible for creating a massive, social movement.
Suddenly the world was more open to trying wine from California – and by extension, the rest of the world. People started realising that New World wines – produced in countries like California, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and now India, were just as capable of producing world-class wine.
It put the whole world on the map. And trust me, that’s a big, BIG deal.
And while we’re still working on making that one decisive boom onto the international market, rest assured : Indian wine will have its day. And if I have anything to do about it, that day will come sooner than later.
You heard it here. You might not have heard it here first, but you heard it here.
And with that, I bid you adieu.
Until next time. 🙂