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International wine test matches — such as the Judgment of Paris tasting of 1976, which put California on the map, or the SAA Shield between SA and Australia in 1995 — work best when the outcome defies the rational expectation of an influential audience.
The Paris tasting acquired its historical importance because 40 years ago everyone believed that the best Old World wines would necessarily outperform anything from the New World. California’s overwhelming triumph forced everyone to re-examine their most basic assumptions. Suddenly the world wasn’t flat and the view could never be the same again.
This is why no subsequent "test match" has had the same impact as Spurrier’s quite casually organised 1976 event.
SA’s drubbing in the SAA Shield of 1995 achieved the same result from a negative perspective. It forced our overcomplacent wine makers to reassess their blind faith in the quality of what was coming out of the country’s cellars in the post-isolation era.
As UK wine writer Oz Clar...
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