It’s nearly 40 years since Steven Spurrier’s famous Judgement of Paris tasting, which firmly put the Californian wine industry on the map back in its bicentennial year of 1976. That, at least, was the unintended consequence. Spurrier was actually more focused on generating publicity for his Parisian wine shop, Les Caves de Madeleine. Not for one minute did he imagine that California would win this extraordinary blind tasting.
However, that’s precisely what happened, as France’s best-known palates placed unknown California Cabs ahead of their own First Growth clarets. Similarly, when it came to the Chardonnay flight, burgundy was once again bested by the Golden State. So it did little in the way of publicity for Spurrier’s shop and rather a lot for the likes of Stags’s Leap and Chateau Montelena from California. The story even made its way into Time magazine, while one of the winning wines ended up in the Smithsonian Institute.
Perhaps that’s why, four decades on, people are still talking about it and organising reruns. The latest is being held on Tuesday May 6 at Avenue, the St James’s restaurant, which has partnered with its wine-merchant neighbour Berry Bros & Rudd. The two have put together an exciting dinner and blind wine tasting in homage to the iconic 1976 original.
The event will present four pairs of competing wines from France and California over as many courses. What’s more, it will be hosted by Spurrier himself, together with Berry’s Jasper Morris MW. Exactly as in 1976, guests will taste the wines blind before Spurrier and Morris ask them to compare, contrast and vote for their favourite pairing.
It promises to be quite an evening, especially as the wines will include a 2006 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Charmes-Chambertin-Les Mazoyères, Grand Cru, Burgundy; 1991 Ridge, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz County, California (magnum); and 2008 Qupé, Syrah, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Sonnies, Edna Valley, California.
Starting at 6.30pm, guests will enjoy a sparkling wine and canapé reception in Avenue’s Long Bar, before dining in the main restaurant. Head chef Michael Blizzard has worked closely with Avenue’s head sommelier Andres Ituarte to create a special menu, tailoring his New American dishes to complement the aforementioned wines.
Francophiles will probably expect the French to win hands down. But I wouldn’t be so sure. The Americans usually end up winning, just as they did in 1976.