Book Review “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the historic 1976 Paris tasing that revolutionized wine” by George M Taber

96 points

Most wine books are for reference, being about a region or a producer, or a collection of tasting notes. This book tells a story, and it’s the best such wine book I’ve ever read. Campbell Mattison’s “Wine Hunter” is also a good book but “Judgment of Paris” is less sentimental, and much broader in scope.

I already knew about the 1976 tasting and had recently read the Decanter coverage of the rematch 20 years later. In spite of this I still found the book interesting.

I seldom drink Californian wine, little of the good stuff makes its way outside of the USA and it is usually far overpriced. But still I found the book interesting.

It’s more than a book about the 1976 tasting and how it came about and what happened. It tells the story of the creation of many of the Californian vineyards, winemakers, and specific wines that ended up in the tasting. But the book is more than this. George Taber is a former Time staff writer (who was living in France in 1976 and was the only journalist at the tasting) and his global perspective shows. He covers the implications of the tasting for California and for all of the New World, and for France too.

So I recommend this book not only to those interesting in fine wine but also to wine marketers.

Thankfully the book is absolutely not a rah rah we beat the French jingoistic celebration. Taber correctly points out that the facts that show that it’s a stretch of the data to say that the Californian wines beat the French ones (especially amongst the Cabernets), the more correct summary is that it showed they were very competitive. Which is quite amazing given the youth of the vines, winemakers and general US wine industry. I hadn’t realised that many of the wines were from such new operations.

Today it seems less of a story that very expensive Napa wines are competitive with very expensive French ones, but then there was a price difference and a huge perceptual one.

I was intrigued to read that even back in 1976 many of the winemakers of the ‘Judgment of Paris’ wines were deliberately making wines in a different style to their neighbours. They were seeking elegance and balance, low alcohol wines, that were food friendly. They were quality obsessed and many of them were Francophiles when it came to their taste in wine. Of course, this is partly why the english Steven Spurrier and Patricia Gallagher chose them for the tasting.

I do wonder if these winemakers are still making wines along these lines, or whether they have bowed to the pressure from the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate (which must be much stronger pressure on US wines that depend on US drinkers than on French winemakers) and upped their alcohol levels and sweetness ?

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