Recently at Reason.tv: Red, White, and Sacrebleu—How American Wines Shocked the World

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From wine elves to classy pitchmen, American winemakers have tried just about everything to challenge the dominance of French vintners. And yet, with infamous labels like Ripple and Thunderbird, Yankee wines had long endured the reputation of being good for just one one thing—getting blitzed.

So it must have seemed like a cruel joke in 1976 when a British wine merchant arranged The Paris Tasting, a one-of-its-kind competition that pitted mighty France versus lowly America in a blind taste test judged entirely by Gallic wine experts. 

But as viewers of the movie Bottle Shock and the documentary Mondovino can tell you, the unthinkable happened: America took home top honors for both red and white wine.

The Paris Tasting made Mike Grgich an instant legend, but back then, even the maker of the winning white couldn't believe he had won. "I said are you sure it's me?" recalls Grgich. How could this American, an immigrant who fled communist Yugoslavia, shock the world?

The French wanted to find out, so Jean-Noël Fourmeaux, an official government wine taster became a wine spy. He headed to California to discover how, in the span of a couple of decades, American winemakers progressed from Thunderbird to Grgich's award-winning white.

Fourmeaux encountered a freewheeling atmosphere of technological and cultural innovation—one that attracted the likes of Squire Fridell of Glen Lyon Vineyards, a winemaker who has his own reason for smiling at America's emergence as a leader in wine. Fourmeaux pondered what he could create by mixing French tradition with Yankee innovation, and it led him to a most unexpected decision.

"Red, White, and Sacrebleu" is written and produced by Ted Balaker, who also hosts. Director of Photography: Alex Manning; Field Producers: Paul Detrick and Hawk Jensen; Production Associates: Zach Weissmueller and Tannen Wels.

Special thanks to D'Argenzio Winery and the Wine Institute.

Approximately 7.30 minutes. Go here for downloadable versions.

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  1. Didn’t we already have this discussion?

  2. In communist Yugoslavia, wine makes you grgich.

  3. They always pimp the Reason TV stuff pretty hard.

    Bottle shock was a pretty good movie though. It’s free on either Hulu or it is on Netflix instant view.

    1. As I said in the first post of this, I saw Bottle Shock recently and it didn’t seem too bad, but everytime I looked at the main hippie all I could see was Captain Kirk in a wig (but not a Shatner-quality wig).

  4. Didn’t we already have this discussion?

    Hopefully, this one will turn into yet another goddamn beer thread as well.

  5. HURR DURR

    LIBERTARDS AND BEER GO TOGETHER LIKE XEONES AND CHILD PORN

    HURR DURR

  6. You know what? People who like beer that I don’t like are idiots not worthy of commerce with decent people, And they are not real libertarians.

  7. Screw California and France. Italy has the best wines.

    http://vinocotto.wordpress.com/

    1. Vino Cotto, a dessert wine? and that’s your argument for best wine? I don’t have much taste for the sweet stuff, if I’m feeling like a sweet drink, I’ll mix up some kool-aid.

      As for the rest of italian wines, they’re mostly table wines, tend to be a bit watery and translucent, and lack the boldness and richness of either French or Californian wines. Hell, I’d say I prefer spanish wines to most anything the italians offer.

      1. My Great Grandfather used to make it. I remember one night when I was a kid, my Grandfather went out with his buddies and got so drunk on that shit…he kept throwing up, my Grandmother finally had to get a bucket and put it next to the bed. He was puking all night. After that, he gave up drinking…it was either that or find a new place to live.

  8. I used to be a beer enthusiast, though over the past few years, my taste for the ales has wavered while my palatte for red wine has soared. I still insist though that Napa/Sonoma and the bay area wineries are overrated. I much prefer the Central Coast vineyards from Monterey, Paso Robles, and Santa Ynez valley. I find the reds of the central coast to be more robust, bold, and (my personal favorite) alcoholic.

    1. You can just soak some oak powder (available at any brew shop) in some cheap vodka and save yourself some money.

  9. Fun fact: American wine grapes or even a snippet of vine are catagorized as biohazards in regions of France.

    1. Can you say “phylloxera” . . .

    2. French people and their lack of hygiene are a biohazard every where in the world.

    3. French people and their lack of hygiene are a biohazard every where in the world.

      1. Goddamn double posting.

        1. It should be noted that “Mad Elf Goddamn Double Posting” sounds like a beer name.

    4. How ironic since, as I recall, all French vines are grafted onto American root stock that had to be imported when French root stock succumbed to disease.

  10. Italian wines? Meh. The whites are forgettable. And the reds are far too harshly tannic: I can get into a bold wine, but barolo is like drinking shrink-wrap.

    1. Outside a few high-priced brunellos (and I’ll admit some of those brunellos are among the finest wines to be found), the average italian wine is mediocre at best. I rarely splurge on the uber-expensive nice bottles, so those brunellos don’t offer much for me. In terms of daily drinking wines (the stuff that won’t break a budget so you can afford to drink a few glasses each night), California produces the greatest variety and taste.

      1. I have more brunello and baralo than anything else in the cellar.

        But yeah, if you want low-cost, high-quality go with spanish.

      2. In terms of daily drinking wines, California produces the greatest variety and taste.

        Slight amendment: This is only true if you’re talking Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties. Which is where CA wine is at, for me. Napa/Sonoma/Carneros is overpriced, overrated crap IMO.

        1. South American and Australian are good values as well.

        2. 100% agreement. I live in the L.A. area and head north to Santa Ynez and Paso Robles as much as possible. Member of a few vineyards in the area. Actually looking forward to some tastings up at Bridlewood later this month and then doing an anniversary with my gf at a place called Wild Coyote in Paso in january.

          1. Yep. Most of my favorite spots are all in Lompoc: Melville, Foley, and Palmina. In SLO I’m a big fan of Claiborne & Churchill and Tolosa.

      3. But then my taste is more Burgundy and Burgundy-like wine, so I like all those crisp, unoaked chards and acidic pinots noir.

      4. You can make thoroughly drinkable wine for a buck or two a bottle.

      5. stay the fuck out of tuscany, the land of internationally-styled crapola with big price tags. a good, honest barbera d’asti or dolcetto d’alba will waste anything coming out of california.

  11. Why all the hate for Thunderbird, Reason?

    1. The ‘Bird is my vino of choice when it comes to ritual scrotal annointing…

    2. Night Train Express, baby. Chill to about 30 deg. in the freezer, first.

      1. Worst hangover I ever had.

  12. HURR DURR

    Sorry, Epi. I don’t get scurred off as easily as LoneWacko.

  13. Boones Farm on ice.
    Maybe mixed with a little Fresca.

  14. Last time I drank red wine, I got a massive headache. And I don’t mean from drinking a couple bottles. I mean from half a glass. As for white wines, why bother? You might as well drink beer.

  15. Wait… so I should start getting blitzed on imported wine now?

  16. I luvs me some McLaren Vale Shiraz.

  17. The strange thing about the title is that France’s national colors are also red, white, and blue.

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