The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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30 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2016 of Paris { steven spurrier's letter from london } The Judgment MY INVITATION TO ATTEND THE NAPLES (FLORIDA) Winter Wine Festival came 18 months ago, with the request that I create a lot for their annual auction that over eleven years has raised $146 million for the Naples Children and Education Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of underprivileged and at-risk children. Wine is a fine vehicle for raising money, for it brings people together in a shared sense of conviviality and commitment where the enthusiasm at tastings, dinners and in the auction room is only matched by the generosity of the donors. A morning visit to the main campus that the NCEF supports showed that this is money very well spent. The reason for my presence was that this year is the 40th anni - versary of the Judgment of Paris, the tasting that my wine school L'Academie du Vin held on May 24, 1976, under the banner of the 200th anniversary of the American War of Independence. The background to this event began with L'Academie's tasting room in the centre of the city becoming a magnet for visiting winemakers and American wine writers keen to show us what was going on in California. The wines were a revelation to our French-based palates, and Patricia Gallagher, American-born director of the school, took her summer vacation to visit California and thanks to introductions from wine writer Robert Finigan went from winery to winery and came back totally enthused. Throughout the autumn we made a plan to show carefully-selected California Chardonnays and Cabernets to an elite group of tasters with the aim of seeing their quality recognised and perhaps talked about. L'Academie du Vin, the first independent and self-financing wine school in France, was well-respected, so Patricia and I had little difficulty in getting acceptances from our list of potential judges, who were: Pierre Brejoux, Inspector General of the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Board; Michel Dovaz, head teacher at L'Academie du Vin; Claude Dubois-Millot of Gault-Millau magazine; Odette Khan, Editor of La Revue du Vin de France; Chef Raymond Oliver, owner of Michelin three-star restaurant Le Grand Vefour; Pierre Tari, owner of Ch. Giscours in Margaux; Christian Vanneque, Head Sommelier at three-star restaurant La Tour d'Argent; Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; Jean-Claude Vrinat, owner of three-star restaurant Taillevent. The next step was to find a venue suitable for the occasion and thanks to Ernst Van Damm, one of the regular clients at my Caves de la Madeleine wine shop and publicity director of the nearby Intercontinental Hotel, we were offered the terrace rooms from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on May 24. All that was needed now was for me to go to California and make the final selection, so my wife and I flew out in late April to San Francisco and, again with the help of Robert Finigan, set to work. After the tasting we were asked why there were no "big" names such as Mondavi, Beaulieu Vineyards or Buena Vista, but we were looking for smaller, "hands-on" estates that were known in France as "boutique" wineries. The selection of six Chardonnays and six Cabernets was made, two bottles of each were purchased and, to avoid problems with French customs had they been shipped, were hand-carried to Paris by a group of 20 or so wine producers and their wives, under the guidance of the great André Tchelistcheff, organised by Joanne Dickinson for a wine tour of France. PHOTO: BELLA SPURRIER, COURTESY OF GEORGE TABER Steven Spurrier (right) leads the original Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976. Revisited

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