Book Review: Judgment of Paris

Every legend has something that propelled it into glory. For Fitzgerald, it was This Side of Paradise. For The Beatles, it was Love Me Do. Even California wines can trace their preeminence back to a single event: The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.

Judgment of Paris gives wine lovers a little bit of everything they love—history, nuance, and even some exclusivity. The book’s author, journalist George Taber, was the only reporter present at the sip heard ‘round the world, and this book dives even deeper into the cultural forces and human stories that brought California wines to the forefront.

 

What You’ll Love

The ingredients aren’t, at first glance, what one might expect in a gripping read. Simply put, the story revolves around a taste test of wines—something most of us can do on any given night at a local cellar. What elevates this historical retelling is the unexpectedness of the consequences of a blind taste test and the triumphant “underdog” story that emerged.

Taber brings the tale to life with real world characters—the mark of an effective journalist who has transitioned well to book pages from periodicals. The Time alum brings to life something that sounds like a dinner table tall tale: a local wine shop in Cite Berryer arranges a blind testing of American and French reds and whites. As reputation went, French wine was going to be the clear winner, especially given the picky and informed French judges.

In the foreground, readers get to enjoy the tale of the test taste and the surprising and resounding American win with California wines. In the subplots, readers will learn all about the wineries that put California wines on the map and turned centuries of vinicultural superiority on its head. And in the background is Taber’s own tale, which is dressed in the whimsy and happenstance that would belie a historical and momentous change in American wine.

The first person account and passion-fueled historical development makes for an engaging journey through the events that have shaped the contemporary global wine industry. The writing evokes the European opulence and elegance that shrouded French wine in an untouchable mystique, eventually casting the bright light of the California sun on new wine superstars. With a polished, but accessible style, Taber will keep you entertained.

 

What You’ll Learn

The book title itself references something mythological: a Trojan War tale about Paris of Troy who judged the most beautiful among three goddesses. His decision didn’t exactly earn him any favors with Hera (a contender, and goddess supreme), and hijinks ensued.

With this allusion, the book touches on broader themes. Yes, it’s a competition with unexpected outcomes, but moreover, those outcomes have unexpectedly world-changing consequences. You’ll learn how Taber’s piece made waves when it was published in Time by subverting international expectations in what seemed to be a low-stakes wager at a small cellar in Paris.

And, of course, you’ll see how this spark of recognition of the excellence of West Coast wine catapulted California’s wine growing industry into an even more thriving, successful, and (deservedly) globally respected market. Any moments of lagging in the story are made up for by the colorful anecdotes and juicy details that could only be told by the man who was “in the room where it happened.”

Wine lovers will gulp down this important story with ease and delight, and they definitely won’t be bore-deaux.

 

 

 

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