May 24, 1976 may go down in the annals of the American wine industry as one of the crowning moments; the day that California beat France in a blind tasting. I remember when it happened as it was during my last semester as I was earning my Bachelor’s Degree. It was the Bicentennial year for the United States and over all the country was giddy in celebrations. The country was in a transition state and I remember the year, as I was watching the changing of the guard.
The story of the Judgment of Paris was made into a delightful “indie” film called “Bottle Shock” which I have mentioned in past articles. I really enjoy this film and have watched it many times since it was released in 2008 and my Bride and I saw it the first weekend that it was released. Even though the ending was known by most people that have watched the film, it is still fun and it like the “Rocky” film for wines. Of course, I am sure that the film did not do well in France, because that was the year that they had to cede to the world that they were not at the forefront of winemaking. “What were you expecting, Thunderbird?” to me is just a fantastic line in the script, because bulk wines were what America was thought of, at the time.
What I remember the most of that period was that I was learning more and more about wines, and the wines were from France, Italy and Germany and to a lesser extent here in America one could also enjoy some wines from Spain and Portugal. Wines were European and oh so Continental, they were exotic, as compared to having a glass of Scotch or Rye. After the Judgment of Paris, I think in my little world I was a snob, because all I had ever tried for the most part was European wines. After the event, I remember all of the fine wine shops started carrying California wines in earnest, and the prices that they were asking for these American wines, kept me buying European wines for quite a few years afterwards. Even with the wine shops and restaurants jumping on the bandwagon to carry California wines and at that time it meant Napa Valley wines, it was very difficult to take a chance paying sometimes even more for a bottle of wine that was domestic compared to an import. There was a period when a lot of people that I knew were staying parochial, only this time rather than local, it was foreign. After a couple of holidays in the wine country of California, I had become a convert as well. The most amusing thing to me is that it was only a few years ago that I finally had a bottle of Chateau Montelena, and it basically was for the reason that I just never encountered it on wine cartes. The most nostalgic thing about remembering the Judgment of Paris is perhaps the pricing of wines back then, if only one could still buy the wines at those prices.