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French wine rules despite sour grapes at ‘Judgment of Paris’

We look back to May 1976 when a momentous wine tasting bruised French egos... but they had the last laugh

Serious pride in French wine translates to dedicated shelf space at all supermarkets, where the majority of wine on offer is French Pic: Eddie Jordan Photos / Shutterstock

“Two glasses a day” Macron is a committed fan of French wine and a vocal supporter of the country’s vast winemaking industry. His quote that “a meal without wine is a bit sad” echoed positively with the publication La Revue du Vin – in January, they crowned him “personality of the year”. 

Serious pride in French wine translates to dedicated shelf space at all supermarkets, where the majority of wine on offer is French, often with large amounts of local bottlings. You would certainly be hard pushed to find extensive ‘new world’ representation, especially wine from the US.

However, turn the clock back to May 1976 and the longstanding dominance of European wines took a hell of an ego bruising. 

The ‘Judgment of Paris’ was a blind tasting organised by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, and his colleague, Patricia Gallagher. 

Esteemed French judges compared top-quality whites (California Chardonnays vs Burgundy Chardonnays) and reds (California Cabernet Sauvignon vs Bordeaux) and to everyone’s surprise – including the host Spurrier – US wines topped all categories. 

Some French commentators had ‘sour grapes’, pointing to the scientific methodology of the tasting, and said that despite winning, the US wines would never age well. 

Yet even this proved untrue when, thirty years later, a ‘reprise’ tasting was held, with the US wines once again triumphing.

Despite this credibility boost for non-French wines, today – almost 50 years later – still only about 5-6% of wine sales in France are foreign. The French know what they like and like what they know…

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