Click here to browse my condensed version.) George Taber, Time magazine’s Paris correspondent who attended and publicized the event, also covered it in more detail in his book, Judgment of Paris. In addition to that, one very average movie, Bottle Shock, was released in 2006 and focused on a very narrow aspect, while a planned second, more inclusive one seems to be bogged down in litigations.
While it is not the caliber of the above event, there is yet one more incident that I offer for inclusion into your portfolio of potential dinner party topics. This interesting, though somewhat obscure cultural skirmish, The 1999 Franco-Iranian Wine Incident, was brought to light in Rod Phillips’s book A Short History of Wine.
On the French side of this match play episode we have a nation where wine is central to and inseparable from their historical, national and cultural identity. While the Greeks introduced vines to their shores and the Romans extended the plantings to every amenable microclimate, it was the French who turned winegrowing and wine appreciation into an art form. They have utilized wine for gastronomical, nutritional, religious, medicinal, social, and celebratory occasions, as well as—in an appropriate indication of its overarching importance—utilizing wine to seal and formalize official acts of state.
On the Iranian (Islamic) side, we find a culture, which in the early years of wine’s expanding distribution throughout the eastern and western Mediterranean countries, also enjoyed the many social, culinary, and other benefits of wine. However, in the seventh century Mohammed banned its use and consumption after noting that, like most things consumed to excess, it revealed its negative and destructive effects. He immediately banned the production and consumption of this “abomination of Satan’s handiwork,” upon pain of you know what.
During the early planning of 1999’s formal “state visit,” the first one in nearly twenty years, the President of Iran, invoking the inviolate laws of his religion, informed the French that he could not drink wine and, furthermore, would not even sit at a table where wine was being served. On the other hand, a formal visit of heads of state to France, in conformance with France’s historical traditions, demands an official banquet. And any banquet without food and wine, especially for the French, will never be a bona fide banquet. The Iranians couldn’t back down. The French wouldn’t. The event was cancelled and downgraded to a less formal diplomatic occasion where, presumably, something non-alcoholic was consumed and all affronts to both sensitivities were avoided.
You and I know, however, that the Iranians likely missed out on some exceptional wines. However, my Koran-informed sources advise me that abstention, while worthy and upright, is lifelong, delayed gratification that will be amply rewarded in the afterlife. When the pure and virtuous arrive in Paradise, they will have a veritable bounty of goodies awaiting them: “In it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear.” The wines will undoubtedly be flawless 100 pointers—as will be the accompanying 72 virgins. For those who wait, life in Paradise will be good—quite good.