While this is about whisky, let’s begin with some wine…
An innocuous wine tasting that took place in Paris on May 24, 1976, but will be forever remembered in Napa, home to the Californian wines or what was then called New World wines.
The 1976 Paris tasting, as it can be classified, was a hastily organized set by Steven Spurrier, a part-time English wine merchant who also ran a wine school in Paris, and was aimed mainly at the upcoming U.S. Bicentennial celebration then. The event was to assemble some of France’s greatest experts one afternoon and do a blind tasting of French and California red and white wines.
To cut a long story short – it was a French revolution part II. The first tasting was of white wines, with four California Chardonnays pitted against six white Burgundies from France. The jury of nine tasters included top France’s oenophiles, among them the secretary general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes.
No one in France had ever seriously tasted California wines before, yet the California white wines took three of the top four spots in the blind tasting, with a 1973 Chateau Montelena beating out a 1973 Meursault-Charmes Burgundy for the top rating. A 1973 Batard-Montrachet, which had been classed by the famous wine experts as one of the “greatest of all white Burgundy,” came in a distant seventh.
To add mockery to the calamity, the results of the crucial tasting of the reds, which in wine circles are far more important than whites was beholding. Four Grand Cru Bordeaux squared off against six California Cabernets. The judges were also informed that a California white had won the first tasting. The alarmed judges did everything they could to segment what they thought were the California reds and make sure they didn’t win. The French monopoly was crushed permanently.
It was a seminal event and I cite it every time I speak about the growth of the California wine industry or now the whisky world. The tasting, nonetheless, did nothing to dent the French belief that their wines are superior to all others. Still, even many American wine experts and the world over agree that the best French wines are the best in existence.
Cut to the dram and, yes, we are witnessing a changing Whisky world out there. Right here at home, Amrut and Paul John are flying off the shelves. Friends back in India are hounding every foreign returnee, to get them Japanese Malts.
On a recent holiday to S.E Asia, I experienced the limitless charm and passion in Kavalan Single Malt Whisky, from the only distillery in Taiwan. Mind you, Kavalan won a Gold Medal at the IWSC 2011 and the list is growing.
Are we about to witness a watershed moment soon? I’d say yes, so, sit back and pour yourself a dram – I’d recommend the Peated Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky…
Catherine Zeta Jones, you around?