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Have you read: Book details the wine tasting that changed everything

Thirty years ago, a group of French wine experts gathered in a Paris hotel ballroom to conduct a blind tasting of wines from California and France. As they sipped the red and white juice, and their opinions of the wine were noted, the wine world shifted. Then it was turned on its head.

George Taber’s “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine” details in a simple, engaging manner the event that led, among other things, to the globalization of wine. Taber, a former Time magazine correspondent, has special insight on the topic: He was the only journalist present at the event and was fluent in French, so he knew what the judges were saying.

Besides his writing, Taber’s two greatest strengths are his research and access to those involved and influenced by the infamous tasting. He begins the 304-page book by setting the scene of the tasting. Judges were confused. Some thought French wines were Californian wines and vice versa. For a country that prided itself on being the greatest producer of wine, it was a jolting moment.



Taber pays particular attention to Napa Valley and the figures who helped make it “The New Eden,” which is the title of chapter three. In the Napa Valley sections, Taber introduces three main characters: acclaimed winemaker Mike Grgich, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Owner Warren Winiarski and Chateau Montelena Owner Jim Barrett (another main subject, Steven Spurrier, organized the 1976 tasting).

Besides being a book on the wine industry, Taber provides readers with a mini-biography on his passionate and determined subjects, some who traveled across great stretches of Earth to grow grapes and make wine in Napa Valley. In that respect, the book inspires. In another, the book provides a greater appreciation for wine, especially those from the wineries noted in its pages, such as Stag’s Leap, by knowing the history of its maker.




In chapters after the climactic tasting (some of the French judges were ridiculed and even shunned in their home country), Taber dives into other wine-making regions. People realized that if California could make wine as good as, or even better, than those made in France, then other parts of the world could surely do the same. Such regions are Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and Portugal. And as a graph in the book reveals, people are consuming those international wines.

The book has 25 chapters grouped into four parts. From Plato to Ernest Hemingway, each chapter begins with a notable figure providing a quote on wine. Pictures are provided, as well as a revisit to France and Napa Valley decades after the tasting.

The book also pairs nicely with a glass or two of Cabernet Sauvignon.

After I read this book, I bought copies for my father and brother at Christmas. I recommended it to a friend, who also finished it in quick fashion and bought it for his father, who completed it in about a week.

I don’t know if it’s because we’re from Sonoma County and budding wine geeks, or if it was simply because the “Judgment of Paris” is a great read. Or maybe it’s both.

“Judgement of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine” is available at Neighbors Bookstore in Village Center and from Borders Books.

-William Ferchland is a Tahoe DailyTribune staff writer.


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