Savoring sips of wine history … literally

The book market is flooded with more wine books than any average wine consumer could ever imagine. And there are actually two worth picking up online or at a good bookstore.

Karen MacNeil’s “Wine Bible” is an encyclopedia of wine. The noted wine writer released a second version of the book this year, and the paperback version is well worth the $20. MacNeil covers everything you ever wanted to know about wine. From the great wine regions, their quirks and to every wine grape imaginable, it’s a resource book any wino will get a big kick out of owning.

The other book, and a breezy read, is “Judgment of Paris.” George Tabor’s epic tale of the 1976 tasting of French and California wines is educational, fun and even inspiring.

The gist of the story starts with a British man who owned a small French wine shop. Steven Spurrier was the wine merchant, now wine writer and critic, at the heart of one of the world’s most important wine stories. To spur interest in his small Paris shop, he decided to host a tasting of great French wines and wines from upstart Napa Valley, California.

Spurrier sought to get the snooty French press and others to the low-key tasting event but couldn’t attract any French reporter. He insisted at the time it was not a competition but a chance to compare the colonies’ efforts against the grand stature of French wine.

The only reporter present was Tabor. At the time of the tasting, Tabor was a Time Magazine reporter with no real background in wine. His historic reporting changed the wine world. In reality, his short magazine piece was just four paragraphs, but its impact gave California gravitas against Old World wines.

Tabor did not write his landmark book about the tasting until 2005. The heart of his book is how he details the career of Spurrier up until the time of the tasting and, more importantly, shares the history of the wineries involved in the Paris showdown. The fascinating chapters are the stories of the California winemakers who made the wine that put U.S. vintners on the world stage.

It’s tough to spoil the ending of a story nearly 40 years old. But to the shock of the celebrated French palates that day, we won. The panel of judges, in a blind tasting, picked Stags’ Leap Cabernet the best red and Chateau Montelena as the best Chardonnay.

Many of those pioneers are gone now, but many of the wineries still exist. The men who made California great live on in this book. A few, in their 90s now, are revered in California wine country.

There is an entertaining movie called “Bottle Shock” about the tasting. It’s beautifully filmed in Napa Valley and is fun for any wine lover. Be warned the movie fictionalizes large parts of the story to create an entertaining piece of cinema.

I’d recommend the book. The movie is fun with a nice glass of California Cabernet — maybe even one from Stags’ Leap.

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Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for more than 20 newspapers. Reach Howard at [email protected].