Culture

Red, White, and Sacrebleu

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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. Scroll down for embed code and downloadable versions.

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