Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Re-Judgment of Paris, and Leuven

Somewhat overlooked in the press on the Belgian InBev brewing company purchase of the US Anheuser-Busch brewery, was the news of a European purchase of an iconic American winery.

Chateau Montelena, the historic Napa Valley estate that took first place for its 1973 chardonnay in the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976 and later became best known for its structured, focused cabernet sauvignons, has been sold to Cos d’Estournel, a leading Bordeaux producer in St.-Estèphe, the two producers announced today. <...>

Last summer Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, which took first place among red wines in the 1976 Paris tasting for its 1973 cabernet sauvignon, was sold to a partnership of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates of Washington State and Marchesi Antinori of Tuscany.

French Winemaker Buys Judgment of Paris Winner
July 22, 2008, 5:47 pm
Eric Asimov
New York Times

The original Judgment of Paris was the mythological cause of the Trojan war. What was the 1976 Judgment of Paris? Let's ask beer guy Lew Bryson:
[In 1976] a few big producers dominated U.S. winemaking with cheap, well-made, and unexciting jug wines. Imported wines that were similar to domestic products sold strongly as well: Lancers, Mateus, Riunite. Wine was perceived as a drink for snobs or dipsomaniacs. (Drunks used to be called winos, remember?) Then came the shock of the Judgment of Paris, the 1976 wine-tasting event where, for the first time, wines from small American producers publicly trumped those from Old World makers.

As to what might be the wine/beer connection in this, Lew writes: "You don't need to read tarot cards to see into beer's future. Just look at wine's past."
Two different drinks, two different markets, similar enough to be intriguing. If beer follows the path that wine did, what developments might we see in the next 20 years? <...>

The best thing about this trend is that it will change beer’s image. In a widely quoted 2005 interview in the Wall Street Journal, Miller Brewing C.E.O. Tom Long, then the company’s chief marketing officer, said, “People will tell you that beer is not sophisticated enough or stylish enough to compete with wine and spirits. Why do they think that? Well, I believe it’s because we told them to.” <...>

That was the key to the wine revolution, and it’s crucial to the nascent beer revolution: people enjoying the drink based on its flavor and character, rather than its effectiveness as an alcohol-delivery device, a party accessory.

A Blueprint for Beer
Jul 20 2007
Lew Bryson
Conde Nast

On this topic of the craft beer business mirroring boutique wine, Hugh Sisson, a beer and wine guy, offered a similar analysis at his blog: Diary of a Brewer:
Both product categories were dominated by a few large players (and really still are) focused on making rather generic products sold mostly on price point rather than quality. <...> In many respects America’s small brewers embarked on a similar approach beginning in the late 80’s. People who once thought all beer was pale yellow and very light now understand the difference between Pale Ale, Stout, and Weizen.
An entire media industry has grown up around the growing interest in wine, both assisting in consumer education and sustaining consumer interest – The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator just to mention two examples. Craft beer has also developed a large number of publications
One of the results of increased consumer education is consumer awareness of wine and beer as foods to accompany other foods. <...> Even some die hard wine buffs have to admit there are certain foods that go better with beer than wine! [Emphasis mine.]

Hugh Sisson

Following on the success of the movie Sideways (putatively about American pinot noir), another wine-themed movie will be commercially released in early August 2008. The plot of Bottle Shock revolves about the success of Chateau Montelena's chardonnay at the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting.

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