Blind tastings are often humbling, but perhaps none more so than one of wine's most famous encounters, the Paris Tasting of 1976.
When I met with Aubert de Villaine last week, I finally had a chance to ask him about his experience. He was one of a handful of French wine "experts" who tasted the wines that day and rendered the verdict, giving California wines a knockout—or at least a TKO—over the French wines.
"In reality [the event] was very different than the way history has told it," de Villaine explained. He was 37 years old and was also considered a connoisseur of California wines, as he had married a Californian. But of course, he said, he was not all that familiar with California wines.
De Villaine said the event was described to the judges as a tasting of only California wines; no mention of wines from any other country, he recalled. Only after the event did the host say the two flights had French wines mixed in, making it something of a competition.
"We only had one glass [each]," de Villaine smiled, meaning that the glass had to be emptied before the next wine was poured. That's a difficult way to compare wines no matter how good your palate or memory.
Once the verdict was announced, de Villaine returned home to Burgundy. "After the tasting, in Burgundy I was a black sheep," he recalled. "It was as if I had done something wrong!"
But he considered the results one of the best things that could have happened to France. "We thought we had a monopoly on the production of great wines. The 'loss,' gave us a kick."
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