Aged 79 and suffering from cancer, Steven Spurrier died last week. He was not well known outside the international wine trade, but inside this world his fame and reputation had few rivals. Superficially he was propelled to fame thanks to what is known as The Judgement of Paris, a wine tasting he organised in 1976 that caused a sensation, indirectly catapulting Californian wines into the European arena.
The blind tasting, involving mainly French judges evaluating a selection of the best French and Californian wines, resulted in the US products coming first in every category, this at a time when no-one questioned the position of France as the world's top producer. Such was the French reaction that one of the judges claimed it was not a fair contest and asked to withdraw her votes. The film Bottle Shock (2008) was based on the event.
Spurrier came from a wealthy family that founded what later became British Leyland. His uncle believed everyone should be able to do what they wanted and provided Steven with an inheritance sufficient for him never to work. After a series of rash investments, the funds dwindled to almost nothing.
Spurrier's other love was collecting art. He had a complete set of Goya's Tauromaquia, and he wrote several books.
In 1971 he opened a wine shop in Paris and founded France's first private wine school. As his reputation grew, he was welcome at any winery in the world, from the great domaines of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany or Spain to the famous properties of California, Argentina and Chile. Sadly, adios Steven.