Shang­hai marks Judg­ment of Paris wine event

China Daily (USA) - - DINING | LIFE - By MIKE PETERS

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.

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