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07.02.2006

Fallout From The Second Paris Tasting

May marked the 30th anniversary of the famous 1976 Paris Tasting in which French wine experts selected California wines over their French counterparts in a blind tasting. Those of you who follow wine news know, of course, that in the rematch of the original red wines that was staged to commemorate the anniversary, California wines won again, and decisively.

So I've been wondering, what the impact will be. Of course it's too soon to know if it will really have any impact on the wine world from a market perspective, but I've been watching to see what effect it has had from a psychological and journalistic perspective.

I don't know that I have any conclusions to share, but I can tell you what I've seen.

In the weeks leading up to the tasting, Michael Steinberger weighed in on what he thought the whole thing meant. And of course there was already the book.

If you didn't manage to catch the immediate reporting of the second tasting's results here's some coverage from The Independent (London); Decanter Magazine; The San Francisco Chronicle; MSNBC; and The Napa Valley Register. Each provides an interesting "local" take on the immediate news.

Much ado was made (some before, most after the tasting) of the fact that the Rothschilds chose not to participate in the the tasting, and yanked their offer to host it at their estate when organizers refused their request that the tasting be done non-blind.

Then more interesting things started happening.

People started considering what this really meant, and analyzing the results.

Some people, including to a certain extend, the host Steven Spurrier, started twisting the results and even claiming that France actually won.

Eric Asimov got Paris Judgment fatigue and started complaining that the thing shouldn't have really happened in the first place.

Then people started saying even more interesting things.

Allegations surfaced that the first tasting, as well as this one were "faked" or "setup" as a publicity stunt. As usually happens when things get to this point, many people joined in agreement and countered in outrage.

Specifically, Marvin Shanken said "I thought it was a stunt the first time in 1976....Back then, I didn't pay much attention, as I knew the parties involved and thought they had an agenda. Why did they do it in the first place? What did they have to gain then? It was clear to me that they wanted to attract attention for themselves and the wines involved were their puppets. If the French wines had won, big deal, who would care? But if the California wines won, then maybe the event would attract attention. What a surprise, the California wines won! To the California wineries involved, they could not lose and they didn't. To the French wine producers, they could not win (and they didn't)."

There was no resolution on the matter of whether, in fact, the results were fake.

But there was resolution in congress. Specifically, the legislators of America took time out of their busy schedules filled with lobbyist luncheons and pork-barrel-bill-stuffing to give a little "NYAH NYAH" to the French, having not had an opportunity to do so since they renamed the frites in the Capitol Hill cafeteria "Freedom Fries" a few years ago.

And like all things scandalous, triumphant, and petty, it was announced that Hollywood is going to make a movie out of it, starring Jude Law and Hugh Grant. Who else?

All's well that ends in a multimillion dollar star vehicle about wine, I suppose. What do you think the real ending is?

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.