The next time you drink a bottle of wine from California, Australia, Chile or pretty much anywhere other than France, you can raise a glass to Steven Spurrier. The British wine personality and merchant, who died March 9 at age 79, forever changed the way we perceive wines made beyond France’s borders.
Spurrier is best known for having arranged the groundbreaking 1976 wine tasting dubbed the Judgment of Paris, which brought together some of France’s top wine professionals for a blind tasting that pitted top French white wines from Burgundy against some of the better California Chardonnays, and saw premier reds from Bordeaux tasted against some the Golden State’s best Cabernet Sauvignons.
At the time, Spurrier was a wine merchant in Paris; he organized the tasting after a trip to California. At the time, France was the gold standard when it came to fine wine, and everyone (Spurrier included) expected the French wines to prevail.
In each of the tastings, a California wine took top honours, rocking the wine world and setting the stage for the global wine industry as we know it. American wines could no longer only be thought of as cheap plonk (although much cheap plonk still exists). Producers in all corners of the wine-producing world saw their premium bottlings had the potential to be as good or better than the old French masters.
Medium gold in colour, this Columbia Valley Chardonnay brings ripe red apple, peach and pear aromas that show well with secondary tropical fruit and vanilla notes. It’s rich, medium-bodied and viscous, with loads of tree fruit flavours working beautifully with the supporting vanilla and spice notes (from oak aging), the tropical fruit and ripe citrus flavours and the slightly warm finish. An elegant, sophisticated example of Washington Chardonnay. 4/5
Santa Julia 2018 Reserva Malbec-Cabernet Franc (Uco Valley, Argentina — $15.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This 70ish/30ish blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc brings the dark berry aromas of the former grape, with some lifted tomato leaf and cocoa notes from the latter. On the chewy, full-bodied palate, the blackberry and slightly tart cherry flavours work well with the underlying herbal/savoury/slightly meaty note, the medium tannins that bring a white pepper/black tea component and subtle spice from 10 months in French oak barrels. Pour this well-priced red into a glass and let it sit for half an hour to open up, or put it away for 18-24 months. 4/5
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.