Shanghai marks Judgment of Paris wine event
On a recent Sunday, there was a lot of spitting going on at one of Shanghai’s most sophisticated restaurants. That’s because the California Wine Institute had gathered some of China’s most sophisticated palates to taste 26 top chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons.
The event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris — a 1976 blind tasting of wines that pitted a bunch of then globallyunknownUSwinemakers against France’s benchmark vintners.
Incredibly, the 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa, and the 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena in Calistoga were judged superior to any French wine in the tasting.
“I changed the rules at the last minute and made it a blind tasting,” says British wine guru Steven Spurrier, a wine merchant in Paris at the time who organized the tasting 40 years ago.
“When the results were tallied, of course the French judges were shocked,” Spurrier says with a chuckle.
“They had to go to California and see for themselves,” he says. “What they found was a lot of passion — and money — for winemaking in California. Both had been in short supply in France for a while.”
Spurrier himself wasn’t surprised — he’d already been to California after hearing rumors about the growing wine scene there.
“But they weren’t really interested in outsiders then,” he tells China Daily. “When I called and told them I was coming, they couldn’t really understand why some English guy would want to do that.”
When Spurrier organized his tasting event in Paris, European wine critics couldn’t understand why he cared either. Not one turned up to cover the event — the only journalist present was the correspondent for Time magazine, who happened to be taking a wine course with Spurrier and his interest was piqued.
The surprising result, as reported in Time, has been known as the Judgment of Paris ever since, and cemented the reputation of California’s vineyards, which produce 85 percent of US wine.
“In California, we produce wines that are complex, fruit-driven and of extremely high quality,” the California Wine Institute’s Christopher Beros said at the recent Sunday’s event at Mon the Bund. Judgment of Paris events have been held around the world since California Governor Jerry Brown signed a proclamation marking the 40th anniversary of the event inMay.
“Interestingly, Chinese consumers are really starting to recognize the quality of California wines and embracing them,” says Beros, who represents the trade group in China. Exports of California wine to China jumped from 29 percent in just the past year, according to industry figures.
The bottles at the Shanghai tasting were current vintages of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon from winemakers around the US state, including Stag’s Leap and Chateau Montelena.
Of course, bottles of the original head-turning 1973 vintages command a high price and presumably are locked up in the cellars of collectors. The oldest bottle on offer: the 2003 cabernet sauvignon from Dunn Vineyards, and the discerning guests from the wine industry circled that table like excited honeybees.
“It’s certainly one of my favorites here,” Beros says with a grin.