Our association with fermented grape juice stretches so far back into pre-history that our brightest paleo-archeologists can only guess at where and when humans first started making it on purpose. Even so, there is always a new trend, a new taste, or a new method to keep the wine industry fresh. A few years ago, big, bold reds with high tannins and strong alcohol contents were all the rage, but not anymore. Now it’s all about lighter wines with fruitier flavors and less alcohol. Out with the old, and in with the new!
Or, does it just seem that way because people like me who talk and write about wine need to have something new to discuss? Does wine really change? For a little new year’s fun, I decided to go back in time to look at some wines of yesteryear that were near and dear to the hipster parvenus of their day and see how they hold up, now that they have been relegated to the “scoffed and sneered at” bin. By the decades, I revisited my own wine timeline to see if I still enjoy the stuff that impressed me back when I was first discovering the beverage.
1970’s: Blue Nun. Blue Nun burst onto the U.S. market in the early 1970’s and became a huge hit. It was exotic (i.e. German, not French or Italian), easy drinking and cool. It was what people who knew wine ordered at fancy restaurants. Today, if you were to show up at a dinner party with a bottle of B.N., the host might giggle and hope that you are being ironic. But how is it, really? Actually, it is still very drinkable. It’s not very cool or fashionable, and it’s not going to win any blind taste tests. After opening a bottle, I sat down to watch a hockey game. Then I went back for a second glass. I’ve hated wines that were a lot more expensive. Verdict: Not terrible.
1980’s: Orson Wells sat in front of a fire in a tuxedo and told us that Paul Masson would “sell no wine before it’s time,” and we are still waiting for him to sell us that one instead of whatever this other stuff is.
1990’s: White Zinfandel; or “White Zin” was in with those sporting argyle sweater vests and driving a Peugeot in the early 1990’s. Zinfandel was everywhere playing the role of California’s answer to Bordeaux. It was all any wine snobs could talk about and de rigueur for ladies at high class garden parties everywhere. How does it hold up? In a word: “Blech!” I hated it in the 1990s and I hate it now. It is sugary and flavorless, entirely lacking in substance.
2000’s: Upon settling down in Virginia, I usually drank beer and bourbon before I’d reach for a glass of wine. Then my father gave me a book about Norton, a wine grape that had been developed right here in the Commonwealth in the 1800’s and had saved the worldwide wine industry by being resistant to phylloxera. Horton, a winery near Charlottesville, rediscovered the grape and was making wine with it. I tried it and, at just $11 a bottle, it was the first wine that I really liked. I credit Horton Norton and its back-story for launching my lifelong interest in wine, not Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Alsace Reisling or even Grand Cru Champagne. Having spent the last couple of decades exploring great wines from around the globe, I wondered: how does this humble Virginia varietal hold up today? It doesn’t have a lot of depth or character, but it tastes good and you can drink it, and isn’t that all you really need out of a bottle of wine that costs less than lunch at a fast-food restaurant?
2010’s: The previous decade marked the opening of Francis Ford Coppola Winery and the beginning of mass-marketed reds under the Coppola label. You can send me all of the hate mail you want, but I never liked California Cabernet Sauvignons. Coppola Claret is a California Cab Sav-based red blend that is mass produced. It should be terrible, taste jammy and be cloyingly fruity. But it is none of those things and, when I first tried it, I was attracted to its funky gold netting around the bottle. I liked it and I still like it. It is, in fact, rich and smooth and as much like a reasonably priced French Bordeaux as you will find from California.
2020’s: Wine preferences, like music preferences, have a way of marking your frame of mind and memorable events over the years. My advice for this next decade of wonderful wine experiences may surprise you. Resist peer pressure. Neither be put off of a wine that you enjoy simply because it has gone out of fashion, nor pretend to like something hip and new that you don’t care for simply for appearances. There is not enough time in one person’s life to waste drinking unpleasant wine just to please others.