This summer marks the 25th anniversary of a cataclysmic event in the evolution of the American wine industry. In the mid-’70s, as Americans were developing an increasing interest in and taste for fine wines, the conventional wisdom was that the only good wines were French wines. It was certainly a notion fostered by the ultra-snobbish French wine industry, who peered down their noses at American wineries as unsophisticated upstarts.
There was one contrarian, thoughSteven Spurrier, co-founder of L’Académie du Vin, a Paris wine store. In May 1976, he devised a plan to tell the world about the high quality of wines being produced in California. He invited nine of France’s most esteemed wine professionals to a blind tasting at Paris’ Intercontinental Hotel. The judges swirled, smelled, sipped, and spat 20 wines: 10 reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 whites made from Chardonnay. Of the 20 wines, 12 were from Northern California. The other wines were high-quality French wines.
On the day of the tasting, a crowd of journalists and spectators gathered to watch. When all 20 wines had been tasted, Spurrier removed the wrappings andmon Dieu!the highest-rated wines turned out to be from Napa Valley. Stag’s Leap Cellars 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon took highest honors in the red category, and Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay won the white.
The tasting had such a profound impact on the North American wine industry that in 1996, the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History created a display documenting the L’Académie du Vin Paris tasting. One bottle each of the winning Napa Valley wines was placed in the museum’s permanent archives.
“Though we didn’t know it at the time, the tasting changed the scope of the American wine industry forever,” says Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap.
Later this summer, the 2001 l’Eté du Vin, Nashville’s international wine auction, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of this landmark event. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Winiarski, and his wife Barbara will be honored at the l’Eté du Vin Grand Auction, a black-tie dinner and auction scheduled for July 21, at Opryland Hotel’s Presidential Ballroom. They’ll also be in attendance at the l’Ete du Vin Vintner’s Tasting, July 19 at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza, as will Steven Spurrier, now a London-based wine writer.
At that tasting, participants will have the opportunity to sample eight wines from the Stag’s Leap Cellars, including the rare Cask 23 bottling, and ask questions of Winiarski. At the Grand Auction, guests will bid on more than 400 unique wine lots.
Now in its 22nd year, l’Eté du Vin is a benefit for the American Cancer Society and is the largest non-industry, for-charity wine auction in the country. In 1998, it became the first charity wine auction outside Napa Village to surpass the million-dollar mark. Since its inception, l’Eté du Vin has contributed more than $8 million to the American Cancer Society.
For more information about l’Eté du Vin 2001, call Jan Anderson at 341-7300 or visit www.nashvillewineauction.com.
Que Syrah, Syrah
Atlantis restaurant is offering another opportunity to wine and dine with the introduction of its own private-label red wine, called Unity Syrah. Unity is a full-bodied red wine, and this particular vintage contains rich, ripe fruit flavors. “Contrary to popular opinion, there are many seafood dishes that are robust enough to be enjoyed with a hearty red wine,” says Josh Weekley, executive chef and co-owner of Atlantis.
Unity Syrah is produced expressly for Atlantis by winemaker Joe Davis of Arcadian Winery, an established vineyard in the wine-making area of Santa Barbara, Calif. Arcadian is known for its highly rated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Unity is available at the restaurant for $38 a bottle.
Not quite so fancy but also worth checking out is Cantina Restaurant & Night Club, opened two weeks ago by Kenny Winchell in the Cummins Station space formerly known as Jody’s. Winchell, who was general manager of Jody’s for nearly a year, purchased the restaurant from Jody Faison and has extensively renovated both the dining room and the bar car in the back.
Jose Naranjo, formerly of U.S. Border Cantina, has served as food consultant and has redone the menu. With a nod to loyal customers, Naranjo and Winchell have kept about a dozen of Jody’s dishes on the lunch menu. The dinner menu, however, consists entirely of Mexican food. Winchell says they will gradually add to the menu, but for the moment, dishes include Baja mahi-mahi, burrito supreme, fajitas, chili relleno, and carne asada.