Part 1 of 2
We are a nation of wine drinkers and, according to Nielsen, as of June 30, 2020, wine sales increased almost 18% over 2019, to almost $1 billion.
But social distancing has kept us out of restaurants, wine shops and wine tasting rooms, so we have been enjoying some older wines from our cellar; wines from the late ’90s to early 2000. I recently had a 2007 Syrah from Australia that was very nice.
Many were still very good, but a few got me wondering, “What was I thinking? Why in the world did I buy this? Was it a fad that year?”
I’m not sure. But I’ve learned that bourbon barrel-aged wines are not my favorite. I’m not a bourbon drinker, I’m not familiar with all the single malts, 12-year-old versus 18-year- old, or the difference between whiskey and bourbon.
So why did I buy this? I don’t know.
My first memories of drinking wine were when I was a teenager at my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. They let us kids try a taste of Mogen David. Wow, was that ever sweet!
All this got me thinking how my tastes have changed over the years. What was in my glass 40 years ago is not what is in it now.
What happened? What changed?
Let’s look down that memory lane and figure it out.
The ’60s was a great time to grow up. Easy-Bake Oven, “Star Trek,” Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, Woodstock, 2001 Space Odyssey, the play Hair gave us, “far out man” and “flower power,” a gallon of gas was 30 cents and the Kennedy assassination all shaped the ’60s.
Our taste for wine was much more relaxed. The days of Mateus, Lancers and Riunite were so popular that virtually everyone in America was drinking them. They were everywhere. They were guzzled at backyard barbecues, fabulous with fondues. All they ever promised was pleasure.
I remember their ad campaigns:
“Enjoy the flavors that make Lancers a legend.”
“Riunite on ice. That’s nice.”
Everyone had a bottle in the fridge next to their avocado-green stove. Nobody discussed how many points it got or the appellation origin contrôlée of Mateus, we were too busy listening to The Beatles.
I liked the way the bottles looked. Mateus resembled an oversize perfume bottle. Lancers came in a squatty brown ceramic bottle.
The ’70s gave us bell bottoms, Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War, Star Wars, the gas crisis began, and every child wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. Chianti came in a straw basket, Paul Masson wine carafes were used for vases or water when empty, and the Orson Welles advertising slogan was, “We will sell no wine before its time.”
California’s unknown Chateau Montelena stuns the wine world and wins the Judgment of Paris. Andre Cold Duck emerges as a German wine by mixing leftover wine with sparkling wine. Even the idea sounds scary; one part red wine with two parts sparkling wine with a dose of sugar.
Lambrusco was a fizzy sparkling red wine from Northern Italy you would take to a dinner party if you didn’t know the hosts too well.
Another iconic wine of that decade was Blue Nun. A German semi-sweet white wine called Liebfraumilch, which literally means “Beloved lady’s milk.” From Japan came Akadama Plum wine.
Other stars of the 1970s were Thunderbird and its catch phrase, “What’s the word, Thunderbird? What’s the price? 50 twice.”
Other era markers were Ripple, MD 20/20, Boone’s Farm, Wild Irish Rose and Annie Green Springs.
Music gave us The Eagles, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Stayin’ Alive.” Movies of the time were Soylent Green, Bad News Bears and Rocky, which won a 1976 Academy Award.
Ronald Reagan was elected president, Mount St. Helens erupted, John Lennon was shot, “Dynasty,” “ALF,” “Charlie’s Angels” and Pac-Man were the order of the ’80s.
We kept the third Thursday of November free for “Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé” parties” so we could slug down copious amounts as soon as it hit wine shops that fiercely competed to be the first to offer its customers the latest vintage.
With its win at the Judgment of Paris, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay quickly became the new white wine phenomenon. Americans learn that for a dollar or two more, chardonnay offered more character and flavor than the house white.
Champagne and sparkling wines sales soared. Wine coolers leaped on the bandwagon as well to capture some of the market, but sank as quickly as they rose. Yago Sangria was the rage,
Mateus was still a hit, and ET, Rain Man, Top Gun and Indiana Jones were big hits at the theater. We listened to Michael Jackson, Foreigner, Queen and Fleetwood Mac.
After 20 years, we were still drinking the sweet stuff. I know I was. But that was about to change.
The ’90s were just around the corner.