Film about key U.S./French wine tasting causes sour grapes

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - “Bottle Shock”, a film based on a real wine tasting in Paris in 1976 where Californian wines beat French rivals, has left some of those involved in the original event with a sour taste.

The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, which is also known as the “Judgment of Paris,” has emerged as one of the most important tastings in the history of wine that is often re-enaacted as it helped put California on the world fine wine map.

The film is one of two inspired by the 2005 book “The Judgment of Paris” by George Taber, the only journalist to cover the landmark blind tasting at which a mainly French panel of experts rated then-unknown California wines higher than the best Bordeaux had to offer.

While Taber’s two-paragraph article appeared on page 58 of the June 7, 1976 issue of Time magazine, the results were astounding, not least to the jurors themselves, by challenging France’s claim to be the world’s superior wine-making nation.

“Bottle Shock” is the first of the “judgment” films to be released, but it isn’t the official version.

According to both the tasting’s organiser, Steven Spurrier (played by Alan Rickman) and Taber, it deviates so far from reality that it should not have the right to be advertised as a true story.

“It’s a tissue of lies. I’ve heard the only good part is Alan Rickman,” said Spurrier, now a wine writer and consultant based in London. He has not yet seen “Bottle Shock”, but read the script.

“What I really hope will happen is that the true story will come out.”


“Bottle Shock” takes numerous egregious liberties, claim its detractors, including a broad-stroke mischaracterization of Spurrier as a bumbling British snob with a failing wine shop.

In reality Spurrier joined the wine trade in 1964 and moved to Paris in 1970 where he opened the L’Academie du Vin, France’s first private wine school.

“The portrait of Steven Spurrier is an outrage, and not at all what he is really like,” said Taber, who has seen the film.

“He comes across as a Colonel Blimp with a glass of Bordeaux in his hand. I guess I’m too naive about Hollywood, but I don’t think any artists should destroy someone just to get some cheap laughs.”

Even more critical a point of contention is the film’s portrayal of the men behind the highest-ranked white wine of the tasting, a Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay from California.

No mention is given in “Bottle Shock” to the estate’s wine-maker Mike Grgich but instead to Jim Barrett, the mostly hands-off part-owner of Chateau Montelena, and his son Bo.

“To claim Barrett made that wine was incorrect, Mike Grgich made it,” said Taber.

“Aside from drinking it and appreciating it, he didn’t know anything about wine. Mike Grgich got the George Orwell treatment and became a non-person.”

For his part, Grgich, now 84 and a well-respected winemakers, fell out with Barrett long ago.

While he realizes the importance of the role he played in the original 1976 tasting, he recently told Decanter magazine that he was “pushed aside”.

Spurrier and Taber are hoping the truth will out by way of a rival script - as yet unproduced - by screenwriter Robert Kamen (“Taps,” “Karate Kid I, II and III,” “The Fifth Element”).

“These people make believe Barrett made the wine - to deny Mike Grgich his rightful place in history,” said Kamen, who also owns Sonoma Valley, California winery Kamen Estate.

“If you look at the wine as an act of creation, you give credit to the person who created it. So the movie is based on a lie - financed and fronted by the Barretts, a 30-year campaign to erase Mike Grgich’s name from history. I find that particularly offensive even though it’s a crappy film.”

Kamen said that unlike “Bottle Shock”, his version will be faithful to those involved in the seminal 1976 event.

In the interim, he is raising funds and waiting for “Bottle Shock” to “work its way through the system.”

Nobody involved in the production of “Bottle Shock” was available to comment.