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It was the tasting that shook the wine world. Forty years ago today, the top names in French food and wine judged a blind tasting. It pitted some of the finest wines in France against unknown California bottles. As Maria Godoy of NPR's food blog The Salt reports, the results revolutionized the wine industry.
MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: The wine tasting started out as a publicity stunt. An Englishman wanted to drum up business for his Paris wine shop. So he thought why not stage a competition that highlights the new California wines I've been hearing so much about? He invited the French press. He invited the American press, but no one was interested.
GEORGE TABER: Because obviously the French wines were going to win, so it's going to be a nonstory.
GODOY: That's George Taber, who was then a Time magazine correspondent in Paris. He showed up as a favor to the organizers. The judges were nine of the most respected names in French gastronomy. They also thought the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Taber had a list of the wines being served. The judges didn't. He watched as they swirled and spat. At one point, he says, a judge sampled a white.
TABER: And then he smelled it and he tasted it. And then he held it up again, and he said, ah, back to France.
GODOY: Except it was a California Chardonnay. The judge didn't know that.
TABER: But I knew.
GODOY: It was the same thing glass after glass. When the results were tallied, the top honors went not to France's best vintners but to a California red and white. Taber says the results shocked everyone.
TABER: Because that was the world's belief for over a thousand years was only in France could you make great wine.
GODOY: The Paris tasting toppled that myth. Noted wine writer and blogger David White says it was a major turning point.
DAVID WHITE: The 1976 judgment totally changed the game.
GODOY: Not just for wine growers in California. In the aftermath of the judgment, new vineyards bloomed around the world from Argentina to Australia.
WHITE: You gave winemakers everywhere a reason to believe that they too could take on the greatest wines in the world with their own efforts, so it totally transformed everything.
GODOY: What came to be called the judgment of Paris prompted the world's winemakers to start sharing and comparing in a way they hadn't done before. Warren Winiarski, whose red wine took top honors in Paris, summed it up at a recent Smithsonian event.
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WARREN WINIARSKI: The wines of the world are better. The wines of France are better.
GODOY: Which means the world's wine lovers were the real winners that day. Maria Godoy, NPR News.
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