In the late 1980s, Spurrier moves to the countryside in Dorset and maintains his London pied-à-terre. Meanwhile, in Paris, it is time to sell his local interests. The sub- sequent chapters, of less interest, describe a retinue of engagements, consultancies, and writing, globe-trotting either as a wine judge or speaker. In Chapter 15, the 2008–2009 ambitious planting of a little over two hectares of vines from a pépinière in Burgundy on his own Dorset estate completes the circle. In 2014, at Liberty Wines’ annual trade tasting, he finds himself on the selling side of the table for the first time.
In the latter part of his life, Spurrier had become a celebrity in the English- speaking world of wine. Feature films, such as Bottle Shock in 2008 (Valletta, 2008), and documentaries exploring the Judgement of Paris, such as Somm 3 in 2018 (Stavins, 2020), brought an additional aura to his prescience in promoting lesser-known wines. “Meet Steven Spurrier: The Man who changed Wine Forever” and other YouTube clips have drawn significant audiences, perhaps surprising given how unknown the Judgement of Paris is to many of today’s wine drinkers. For others, such as Robert Mondavi, Spurrier put California on the map. But his appeal to French-speaking audiences appears thin: YouTube has only the odd, old interview with him elaborating in French, and Le Monde did not offer an obituary.
To your reviewers—both British university faculty of relatively comfortable means —Spurrier’s grandiose vertical tastings of illustrious Champagnes or Clarets seem affected, somewhat vacuous, and the preserve of the few. But Spurrier was also a champion of lesser-known appellations and vin de pays, as his Guide des Vins Régionaux de France (Spurrier, 1985) attests.
Wine leaves its mark and lays down its challenges early on in Monsieur Spurrier’s life with a simple, bold appearance that evokes a first love. From that moment on, we are bounced along in his wine-glass elevator, skipping through a dizzying array of events, touching down on endless, highly prized invitations to dinners, engagements, tastings, or competitions. Regrettably, for a reader not part of the trade, at times it feels like a tiresome exhibition of name-dropping, and thereby loses some of its vitality.
This was clearly a heavily documented life, and the details are lifted with metic- ulous care: “We were to have Dom Perigon as an aperitif, probably the 1955, then Chassagne-Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 1962 bottled by Brouhin, and com- pare Domaine Rousseau’s Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambertin Clos de Beze from 1952. The order was left to me and I suggested that the Lafite should be the first of the reds and that it should not be decanted, but poured directly into the glasses after opening” (p. 96). Despite these otherworldly nuggets of haute gas- tronomie, Spurrier retains a sense of his huge good fortune through recurrent touches of self-deprecation.
With products, places, and especially people front and center, recurring names weave a rich mise-en-scène that, in one way or another, is responsible for many of the plays of his life. He is unstintingly generous in crediting others and self-effacing to the point that you could believe it all happened by itself.
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