India: Home of the New New World Wines?

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I thought my colleague Tim Padgett – and everyone else interested in the 35th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris – might want to hear a little more about the charming Steven Spurrier, who organized the  infamous blind tasting in which “California defeated all Gaul.” Spurrier, as it turns out, is still seeking out new frontiers in wine — lucky for me, in India.

He is  based in the U.K. but travels frequently to India, where he is chairman of the board of wine advisors of the Wine Society of India . I met him in Mumbai in 2009 during the first Sommelier India Wine Competition, and he reminisced fondly about that day in Paris. As he describes it, he organized the contest to drum up a little publicity for his shop, using the American bicentennial as a hook.  He sent press releases to all the foreign correspondents, but George Taber of Time was the only one who showed up – slow news week in Paris that June, apparently. The victory of the New World wines did not immediately register on the Continent; the effect was much more profound in the U.S. As Spurrier describes it, Americans who had been conditioned to believe that fine wine meant French wine started bringing the magazine to restaurants and asking for the California wines featured in the story. That may be apocryphal (any readers remember that back in ’76?) but I think it’s a good reminder that wine snobbery knows no national boundaries. I see the same thing here in New Delhi. There are many, many Indians and expats alike who turn up their noses at Indian wines. It’s a fledgling industry, to be sure, held back by ridiculously high taxes and terrible storage conditions. But I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by many Indian wines – the Grover La Reserve, the Four Seasons Shiraz, and wines from York winery and Chateau d’Ori in Nashik, among others. And the ambitions of these New New World wines are serious. Four Seasons recently acquired a Loire Valley winemaker, Bouvet-Ladubay, and will soon begin selling Indian wine in France. In another decade or so, perhaps it will be time for new Judgment of Paris?