9 March 2021: Académie du Vin Library Post on Twitter: “Steven Spurrier died, earlier today. He was at home, at Bride Valley, surrounded by family. Steven was a pioneer in wine – a visionary who never lost his passion for new projects, new discoveries and the world of wine.”
Charm, intelligence, and not unexpectedly, a great passion for wine.
Imperishable images of Paris. La cité Berryer, off the rue Royale in the 8eme arrondissement, is an ancient mews that had once the feel of a cozy provincial town. Today, renovated, there are rows of impeccable luxury boutiques.
In the 1980’s, the mews housed Les Caves de la Madeleine, a wine shop run by Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who shook up the wine world with a blind tasting in ’76 of French and California wines.
A few doors down, Steven’s wine bar and bistro, the Blue Fox. The soft clatter of plates; the attentions of the waiter; a girl with bare shoulders; the smell of perfume, and the first sip of a fruity wine – a perfect joining with the sensual world.
Fresh from California with patchy French, I gravitated to Les Caves where, in my native tongue, I discovered the incomparable taste of French wines. I had at that time only romantic notions, and scratchy notes from tastings organized by French oenologists.
The approach to selecting bottles that Steven revealed at Les Caves was a window to a world of good taste. I envied its simplicity.
What’s the Occasion? Your Budget?
First, what is the occasion? Entertaining. Aperitif. Lunch. Dinner. A gift. The conversation turned to a particular preference, such as an appellation or a grape variety, and to pairings.
Second, what is your budget? Here the key is good value, sometimes referred to a quality / price ratio. For value, there are appellations such as the Côte Chalonnaise in Burgundy, or Vacqueyras in the Southern Rhone. Discover a vin honnête: not a wine of great quality, yet agreeable, an authentic savouring of terroir and grape variety at a low price point.
When I think of Steven, I think of France. He knew the world of its wines. I did not. What he provided was certain attitudes toward wine, and cultured manners.
A few years before Steven pulled out of Paris in 1988, I relocated to Manhattan. I took up selling wine at an upscale shop off of Central Park. I remained obedient to his ways, repeating to customers his phrases like some kind of oath, evoking conversations, charming and riveting.
A few months into the gig, I approached a customer at a rack of Bordeaux. She turned toward me: birch-white skin, a full mouth, noisette eyes. “So, what’s the occasion?” She smiled. A long pause. I felt a slight fever coming on. The closeness. I remember the bottle we shared that evening: a Château de Pez.
The savoir-faire of Steven Spurrier finds its incarnation at Willi’s Wine Bar run by Mark Williamson. Reveling in Willi’s glorious selection of Rhone wines, we renew the lyric of a sensual world.