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Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine Paperback – Bargain Price, November 21, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1976, a Paris wine shop arranged a tasting as a gimmick to introduce some California wines; the judges, of course, were all French and militantly chauvinistic. Only one journalist bothered to attend, a Time correspondent, looking for a possible American angle. The story he got turned out to be a sensation. In both red and white blind tastings, an American wine won handily: a 1973 Stag's Leap cabernet and a 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay. When the story was published the following week, it stunned both the complacent French and fledgling American wine industries—and things have never been the same since. Taber, the Time man, has fashioned an entertaining, informative book around this event. Following a brisk history of the French-dominated European wine trade with a more detailed look at the less familiar American effort, he focuses on the two winning wineries, both of which provide him with lively tales of colorful amateurs and immigrants making good, partly through willingness to experiment with new techniques. While the outrage of some of the judges is funny, this is a serious business book, too, sure to be required reading for American vintners and oenophiles. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In 1976, a Paris-based British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, organized a blind tasting of California and French wines in honor of the bicentennial of the American Revolution. With labels hidden from view, French wine experts in attendance at Spurrier's event pronounced the California wines generally superior to those from France. Some judges professed to be unable even to discern which wines were French and which American. Media reports of this tasting sent shockwaves throughout the wine world. Thirty years after the event, this seems very old news, but at the time it marked an absolute revolution in taste and in expectations. California's wine industry took off, commanding ever-higher prices and attracting even more talent. French wineries were forced to innovate and find better ways to market their formerly unrivalled bottlings. Taber expands on the events leading up to this celebrated event with a readable, concise history of wine making in America, recounting the long journey from sweet, sacramental concord grape wines to today's range of sophisticated offerings. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (November 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743297326
  • ASIN: B000WPO84W
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,761,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John B. Woodward III on September 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Centered on a small, poorly attended (only one journalist present) wine tasting event in 1976-the famous Paris tasting organized by the English bon vivant and Paris wine retailer/writer Steven Spurrier-George Taber tells the whole story first-hand (he was the journalist present!). In the process of giving all the details of the wines, the jurors, and the scores, the book actually covers the universe of contemporary wine issues, from the winemakers, both French and Californian, to the issues of wine economics and globalization.

Taber begins the story with fascinating mini-biographies of the winemakers and winery owners (such as Mike Grgich, Warren Winiarski, and Jim Barrett), discusses the trials and tribulations of making their first wines, outlines each of the competition wines (California and French) in interesting detail and context, then, after describing the competition itself, follows the discussion with the chronology of the press and public reaction from the U.S. and abroad (mostly French-they were pissed).

Positing the shattering of French wine hegemony by this `momentous' wine event, he then points the reader to the subsequent enabling of the `Globalisation of Wine', and in the remainder of the book, takes a number of diversions that relate to this hotly discussed topic, including a chapter on six recent International Wine Stars, and others that give a (relatively) non-judgemental perspective on contemporary wine trends, wine economics, wine styles, and more wine personalities.

Very enjoyable and well written, it's a must read for the wine enthusiast, and for anyone interested in a succinct summary of many (non-technical) contemporary wine issues.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an exceptional book. George Taber was the only journalist at the famous 1976 Paris tasting and the person best positioned to tell its story. The story, however, is a fairly simple and straightforward one. Man arranges tasting of French and California wines; California wines win; the French are aghast. This was a small event with huge repercussions. Hence, Taber spends the bulk of the book detailing the background which led to the event and the results that followed it. In doing so he gives a panoramic, if selective, account of current practices in the French and new world wine industries and--in the strongest sections of the book--tells the personal stories of the individuals whose lives were intertwined with the event. With the latter he is providing, in effect, a history of several of the key players in the Napa wine industry: Andre Tchelistcheff, Mike Grgich, Warren Winiarski (my all-time favorite academic), Robert Mondavi, et al.

Like all compelling stories this is a very personal one, the events all turning on individual experiences and individual decisions. Hence there is a beautiful 'reality' about it, a reality that continues today. When you visit some of these individuals' wineries you are still likely to see them there, behind their desks or in their cellars, doing their thing. They changed the world of wine and this is a crucial part of their story.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this a highly entertaining account of the growth of the California wine industry from the early 60's through the 90's. Taber writes in a breezy fashion without to much technical jargon. There are actually only about two chapters on the big tasteoff. Half the book is a prequel to how the featured winemakers arrived in wine country. Nice close about globalization that was fairly interesting. It just makes me want to buy wine only from independent producers.
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Format: Hardcover
About the same time when the computer disk drive was being invented in the prune orchard valley south of San Jose, giving birth to an immense new industry that would bring untold wealth to Californians, less than one hundred miles north, among the vineyards of Napa Valley that were abandoned during Prohibition, another high technology was being born. Wine making. Unlike innovation in computer industry, where nothing existed before, wine industry was some 4000 years old and an unlikely place for new ideas.

Yet, into this environment entered several young men with improbable Slavic names: Dimitri Tchelistcheff, Warren Winiarski, and Miljenko Grgich, and with even less probable winemaking expertise. While Silicon Valley, without any established competition was creating products with ease by thinking "out of the box", the vintners of Napa Valley, by thinking "out of the barrel" produced some fabulous wines. The secret eventually reached a wine merchant in Paris who organized a blind wine tasting of 12 best California wines and 8 best French wines. The only reporter attending was from TIME magazine, George Taber. At a risk of giving away the punch line, after the smoke has cleared in Paris ... the best red was made by Winiarski and the best white by Grgich.

Everyone who visits Napa Valley, once or often, should read this book. It reads like a novel, yet it effortlessly teaches you enough to start your own vineyard and make your own wine.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a flat out excellent page turner as it goes through the general histories of the regions and winemakers involved, the competition in Paris, and the aftermath of the `surprising' wins by the California wines. Highly recommended.

Then Taber spends the last 20% of his book looking at a few wineries in a few wine regions around the world, and an update on the French and Napa regions since the competition in 1976. This all seems like incongruous useless filler to get the book from 240 pages to 300.

Five stars for the first 80%, none for the last 20%.
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