20. Steven Spurrier’s Third Judgment of Paris
We all know that Steven Spurrier, MW, founder of wine emporium Caves de la Madeleine in Paris, off Place de la Madeleine, showed his business-savvy and wine-knowledge confidence when he introduced taste-before-you-buy in that Paris wine shop in the 1970s.
Steven and I first met at the Heublein wine auctions, and later in his wonderful Caves which diversified into a bistro as well. Our mutual friend Georges Lepre also took me there when he was Chef Sommelier at the Hotel Ritz just up from Madeleine in Place Vendome.
Steven’s wine shop-bistro became a natural meeting place for wine lovers. And among them in those early 1970 years was the real Charles F. Shaw. Chuck at that time was working in the banking profession in Paris. He frequented Caves de la Madeleine, and became inspired to visit Georges Duboeuf in Beaujolais. The rest is history. Chuck returned to the USA from banking with some vine cuttings in his socks of Duboeuf’s Gamay Noir au Jus Blanc and planted them in rolling vineyard acreage outside of St. Helena and created the fine Charles Shaw Winery.(Chuck Shaw today at his new winery in Michigan.)
By the mid 1970s Steven Spurrier had travelled to the USA and its vineyards in the west, and knew that there were splendid wines being produced. Knowing the French intransigence when it came to the superiority of their wines, he created a blind wine competition with the wine-makers as judges in which there were representatives from the same grape varieties from both USA and French wineries. When the blindfolds were removed he startling results are considered the “Judgment of Paris” because they turned the wine world on its ears: many Napa wines toppled the French varieties, causing quite a stir and thankfully not a war.
The phrase “Judgment of Paris” takes us back all the way in Greek Bronze Age history and mythology to the son of King Priam of Troy who was called Paris. And because he was so beautiful in more modern times the great city of Light on the Seine took his name. But way back around 1250 BC three Greek goddesses knew that each herself was the most beautiful goddess in the world. And a beauty pageant was held. The contestants were goddess Athena, goddess Hera, and goddess Aphrodite. Things were going just fine in the competitions, singing, dancing, story telling, just like at Miss America’s events today. But the goddess of discord, Eris, had to arrive and stir things up. She challenged Paris to say right out who was the fairest of them all. Poor Paris. He hemmed and hawed. But Discord was bristling for a judgment. And Paris gave his judgment; the winner was Aphrodite.
This was therefore the First Judgment of Paris. And it caused a war. The Trojan War.
The 1900 Paris Exposition’s wine competition in which Prince Golitsyn’s sparkling Novy Svet from the Crimea topped Champagnes from Champagne and won the honor of putting the word Champagne on the bottle can rightly therefore be called the Second Judgment of Paris. It did not lead to anything but more understanding and broadening of friendships.
And the cleverly-named wine-competition Steven Spurrier organized is rightly the Third Judgment of Paris.
These competitions keep wines and wine-makers striving for the very best.
And while beauty pageants often are hard contested thankfully since 1250 B.C. no more wars have been caused over the results. So far.