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Steven Spurrier Wine Tasting
Santa Barbara County Wines

Terry Sullivan

Steven Spurrier Wine Tasting, Santa Barbara County WinesWe learned about renowned wine expert Steven Spurrier when we researched the 1976 Judgement of Paris wine competition. The competition involved wines from some of the most prestigious wine houses in Burgundy and Bordeaux matched against wines from California. Steven Spurrier was the British wine merchant and wine shop owner in Paris who organized the tasting. The Hollywood film Bottle Shock recounts the event and Spurrier’s role.

This was a blind tasting. The wine tasters in Paris had no idea of which producer crafted each wine they were tasting. They scored the wine and mentioned where they thought the wine was from. It was expected that the French wines would dominate and the California wines would put in a poor showing. Shock! The top white wine was from Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, California. Their Napa Valley Chardonnay stunned the tasters in this blind tasting. Was this just a fluke or could it happen again?

A while later the top red wine was announced, silence and shock followed. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley bested the best of the French wines. Spurrier had invited several reporters to the event, but only George M. Taber of TIME magazine attended and reported the news.

The results trickled back to the American consumer. In New York, wine enthusiasts began to request the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon at upscale restaurants. Restaurant wine stewards could not accommodate their patrons’ wishes but soon discovered that California produces wines that can compete with the best wines in the world. At the time, most upscale restaurants in the United States had predominantly European, especially French wines listed for their offerings. Wine lists began to change.

Steven Spurrier Wine Tasting, Santa Barbara County WinesKathy and I were thrilled to be invited to participate in a blind tasting of Santa Barbara wines with Steven Spurrier. We found Spurrier to be charming and a perfect gentleman. He talked to the winemakers after the tasting and complimented them on the job they were doing. Spurrier was mostly impressed with the Pinot Noirs we tasted. He also liked the Chardonnays and Syrahs but thought they had to do some catching up to the level the Pinot Noirs were at.

Steven Spurrier Wine Tasting, Santa Barbara County WinesThere were seven tasters and we sat at a table at Clos Pepe Estate in Lompoc. Fourty-eight wines were divided into nine flights with each flight containing from four to six wines. All of the wines in a flight were served in stemware and we had no idea of who produced the wine. We were only given the vintage and the appellation. We tasted the wines in the flight and took notes. Steven Spurrier led the group. After allowing time to taste and record notes, Spurrier asked us to mention our first and second high scores for each flight. He tabulated our choices and announced the wine with the most points. Spurrier is very congenial and easy to talk with. We often heard Spurrier say, “brilliant” after the winning wine was announced.

Since we had 48 wines to taste, we did not have the time to talk about the wines. It was a rather business-like atmosphere. We had a job to do and got to work. Everyone in the group spit the wine in spit cups. On a couple flights, Spurrier did not agree with the other six tasters, but he was quick to point out that the majority rules and seemed pleased with the result.

After the tasting we joined the winemakers for lunch on a beautiful patio at Clos Pepe Estate. We were welcomed by Steve Pepe to his beautiful estate. In the middle of the event, Steven Spurrier announced the chosen winners of the blind tastings. Glancing around the group of winemakers we noted that some of the winemakers were happy with the results others were a bit disappointed but congratulatory. Winemaking is like parenting. Winemakers put a lot of time, work, and knowledge into their wines and hope they will be the best.

We were grateful for being asked to participate in the Santa Barbara wine blind tasting.
The food was fabulous and the sunny day with quality wines from Santa Barbara winemakers made everything even more splendid.


Steven Spurrier Wine Tasting, Santa Barbara County Wines     Steven Spurrier Wine Tasting, Santa Barbara County Wines

Wine Flights Top Scores

Flight Top Score
Chardonnay 1 Longoria 2012 Cuvee Diana, Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Chardonnay 2 Sanford 2011 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Other white wines Alma Rosa 2012 Pinot Blanc, La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Pinot Noir 1 Foxen 2012 Pinot Noir, john Sebastiano Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Pinot Noir 2 Babcock 2012 Pinot Noir Appellation’s Edge, Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Pinot Noir 3 Alma Rosa 2012 Pinot Noir, La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Other red wines Andrew Murray 2012 Esperance, Central Coast (blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre)
Syrah 1 Andrew Murray 2012 Syrah, Watch Hill Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
Syrah 2 Tensley 2012 Syrah, Turner Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills AVA


Article written July 2014

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