Is Steven Spurrier the most influential man in wine…. Ever?

The Munchies part of the Vice media empire have made a short film about Steven Spurrier.  If you’d told me that a few years ago that I’d see the words Vice and Spurrier in the same sentence, I would have said that’s about as likely as Kate Moss flying Easyjet. Truly we live in extraordinary times. The hyperbolic billing made me want to dislike this film:

“If it weren’t for him (Steven Spurrier), the industry would still be run by French aristocrats, and none of us would ever have heard of the Napa Valley.”

But I suppose they have a film to sell to people who have never heard of Steven Spurrier so one can forgive the rather breathless tone. The film itself is more understated and provides an interesting summary of Spurrier’s illustrious career. He comes across as a courteous man albeit someone with no sense of false modesty about his own influence or abilities as a taster. In short, he’s about as far away from the bumbling gentleman amateur that you might associate with a doyenne of the British wine trade. What was interesting was how mid-Atlantic his accent is, like an 80s Radio 1 DJ, thirties becomes thirdees.

The elephant in the room is of course Robert Parker (no offence, Bob) who is not mentioned in the film. You have to be very interested in wine to know who Spurrier is whereas Parker is a critic who has transcended his job. Parker, for better or worse, actually changed how wine tasted. Wine makers made wines that they thought he would like. He changed how people talked about wine too with his 100 point scale. I don’t think that Spurrier can or indeed would claim to exert anywhere near the same influence. Without his Judgement of Paris, there can be no doubt that Californian and other New World wines would still have become recognised as world-class. The Judgement was a symptom of, not the cause of, change in the wine world.

Spurrier’s timing, however, was impeccable and the contest has proved a talking point ever since spawning books, articles and films including Vice’s one which is well worth watching. Oh and this blogpost which is well worth reading too.

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About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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