The Washington Post reports on the passing of Steven Spurrier at age 79, and notes that Spurrier was the British wine merchant who engineered what was called "the Judgement of Paris" - a 1976 event that pitted the finest French wines against "relative upstarts from California’s Napa Valley" in a blind tasting by France's foremost wine experts.
For the vast majority of wine experts, the outcome was a foregone conclusion - California wines weren't thought of as even being on the same planet as French wines at the time.
The Post writes: "To the shock and horror of the French wine élite, California’s Chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons were rated higher than the classic local wines. A 1973 Californian Stag’s Leap cabernet out-rated a 1970 red Bordeaux from the legendary Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. A California Chardonnay, Chateau Montelena, beat its French rival."
From that seismic day," the Post writes, "the Californian wine industry began to foster global ambitions, and its vintages are now praised and enjoyed around the globe. The bursting of the historic French bubble also led many other would-be wine-growing countries to begin competing internationally with increasing success." And, it encouraged winemakers from Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and even East European nations such as Bulgaria and Hungary to begin making and exporting fine wines.
Spurrier's story was broadly fictionalized and turned into the 2008 movie, "Bottle Shock," in which he was played by Alan Rickman: