I purchased the book Judgment of Paris when it was first released in 2005, but until recently it sat on my shelf as a “one of these days” book to read. This semester I was studying the California wine regions so in addition to our assigned textbook, Matt Kramer’s New California Wine, I thought this book would be a helpful insight into the history of California wine.
However, as I read the book I found that while the central focus of Judgment of Paris is on the now famous 1976 wine competition, the breadth and depth of this book makes it an invaluable source for understanding the history and culture of wine of the entire world.
Part One of the book “A Driving Dream” is a personal account of the life of the man who spear headed the wine competition Steven Spurrier and his challenge of being a British wine entrepreneur and advocate in France.
The book then transitions into a brief account of the heritage of French wine and its place in the world as the domination unchallenged wine producer in the world, being viewed as have an inherent and unchallenged superiority.
In chapter 3 Tabor discusses the forgotten historical roots of California wine including the detrimental events of the severe frosts, the Great Earthquake, the rise of the disease of phylloxera and finally the deathblow of the Prohibition that brought the initial wine culture of California to a stop.
In Part Two “The Awakening” the author goes on to give his readers biographies of the founding fathers of the new Age of California wine such as Mike Grgch, Warren Winarsky, André Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, John Ingram, Rodney Strong and Jack Cakebread.
When we drink great wine we are not only experiencing the terrior of the land form which the grapes are grown, we are also encountering a bit of the soul of those who pour out their lives into each vintage. This is why I found particularly inspiring the accounts of the trials and tribulations and ascent to greatness of Grgch, Winarsky, Mondavi who had to overcome great obstacles, challenges and have faith to maintain their vision and dreams in order to accomplish such great achievements.
Part 3 of Judgment of Paris brings us to the dramatic event when the small pebble of the France vs. California wine competition plunged into the ocean making a ripple of waves that would spread throughout the world as these “kids from the sticks” beat the French at their own game, on their own field, using their own judges. The reader is given a detailed play by play of the wines that were entered, the judge’s reactions, and the scores that were given. A chapter is dedicated to all of the California wines and the French wines, including maps and charts providing a full account of this historic event.
In Part Four “The New World of Wine” we read of the far-reaching impact of the 1976 competition as the eyes of the world were opened to new possibilities never before imagined as Robert M. Parker Jr. said:
“The Paris tasting destroyed the myth of French Supremacy and marked the democratization of the wine world. It was a watershed in the history of wine.”
Tabor goes on to talk about how not only has the focus of where great wine can be made radically changed, but also how it is to be grown, marketed, and distributed. In essence, the global culture of wine has undergone a radical paradigm shift has taken place, all of which was sparked by the 1976 Judgment of Paris.
If you truly want to understand today’s wine world, this is definitely a “must read” book. For an interesting interview with the author, check out the following video: