Wine, Food and Cheese — Oh, My! Oxford Companions Compared

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Oxford Companion to Cheese (edited by Catherine Donnelly), 2016; Oxford Companion to Food 3rd edition (Alan Davidson, edited by Tom Jaine), 2014; Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition (edited by Jancis Robinson & Julia Harding), 2015.

The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favorite wine reference books. Interesting and authoritative, it balances breadth and depth very well indeed. A great source if you need to look something up and a pleasure to browse, too. I am a big fan.

Nobody can live on wine alone (although I have a few friends who might have tried) and apparently Oxford cannot live by wine reference books alone, either. They publish a whole range of reference volumes including Oxford Companions to both food and cheese.

Wine, food, and cheese? I could not resist the opportunity to compare and contrast when a copy of the new Oxford Companion to Cheese arrived at Wine Economist world headquarters at about the same time that a colleague offered me a copy of the older second edition of the Oxford Companion to Food he recently received as a gift from his OUP editor. How do they stack up?

Pizza, Poutine and Venezuelan Beaver Cheese

I found all three of the books interesting and useful, but the food volume suffered a little by the comparison, which I now realize was unfair. Food is such a huge topic — where does  it begin and end? It is impossible to get the breadth/depth balance on such a huge topic adjusted to everyone’s satisfaction. Although it is a terrific reference, I often found myself wanting more detail. But maybe that’s what the internet is for!

The cheese volume, on the other hand, was a perfect fit for me. Lots of great detail about cheese varieties, processes, cultures, issues, history and so on. Famous cheesemakers are profiled, notable cheese shops reviewed, and cheesy foods (pizza, poutine) analyzed.

There is even room for a bit of fun as the entry for Monty Python makes clear. Yes, you are correct, it is the famous Cheese Shop sketch (see below), which mentions 41 different actual cheese varieties and one fake one (Venezuelan beaver cheese).cheese

What About the Wine?

Browsing both books was fun, but my focus was on wine. Wine has obvious connections to food and cheese — how would the authors and editors approach the subject?  The “wine” entry in the food volume, located between “wild rice” and “winged bean,” was almost shockingly brief. Wine is treated here as an ingredient in cooking, not as food itself or part of a shared cultural experience. How disappointing.

Wine does not even appear in the index, which is intentionally “noncomprehensive” and “highly selective” in my older edition.

Wine enthusiasts will find more to like in the cheese volume, where a very informative  entry on  “wine pairing” is wedged between “Williams, Jesse” (a farmer and cheesemaker who opened the first American cheese factory in Rome, NY in 1851) and “Winnimere” (a raw cow’s milk cheese made by Jasper Hill Creamery in Greensboro Bend, Vermont). “See also Beer Pairing,” we are advised. Good idea.

The cheese volume has a comprehensive index and so it is easy to find information about wine as a component in the cheesemaking process (used to color the cheese, for example, or to wash the rinds of some varieties). Wine also appears in a number of the entries for particular cheese varieties, generally in the form of cheese-wine pairing recommendations. This is very useful, but not all the entry authors find wine pairing to be important. The otherwise comprehensive entry on Stilton, for example, fails to mention its potential pairing with 20-year old Tawny Port. What a pity!

The Wine Perspective

My examination of the food and cheese companion volumes made me curious about how the wine companion deals with culinary connections. A quick glance at the index revealed … that there is no index. I searched the online version of the book that is available to subscribers to Jancis Robinson’s website and found 15 mentions of “cheese.” The entry on wine-food pairing was very good, on a par with the wine pairing entry in the cheese book.

All three of the Oxford Companions are useful and interesting additions to your bookshelf. The wine companion is essential for wine lovers and, having spent some time with it, I think the Oxford Companion to Cheese is a “must-have” volume, too, especially for travelers who want to explore local food, wine and cheese. Don’t leave home without checking out the wine and cheese cultures you will encounter on the road!

But you don’t have to get out of town to enjoy these books. Global markets increasing make a wide world of wine available to us and this is also true of cheese. Upscale supermarkets offer dozens, sometimes hundreds, of cheeses.

The Oxford Companions can help open the door to fuller enjoyment of the wines and cheeses that lie waiting on our doorsteps. Enjoy. (And enjoy The Cheese Shop sketch, too!)

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Old Wine in New Bottles? What’s New for Porto and the Douro Wines

sandemanAs I noted in last week’s column, the Association of Port Wine Companies roadshow passed through Seattle recently and Sue and I were fortunate to be invited to attend the Porto and Douro Wines Tasting.

Expect the Unexpected

Events like this are always appealing because they represent a chance to see old friends and taste familiar wines. But the real attraction is the opportunity to find something new. Portuguese wines never disappoint!

In fact, when I think about it, all my recent experiences with wines from Portugal have included surprises, some of which I have written about here. Portuguese white wines, for example, were a surprising discovery during our visit to the Douro and Alentejo regions earlier this year.

Here in the U.S. consumers think Portuguese whites in terms of Vinho Verde and while these wines can be delightful, we found a world of white blends made using indigenous grapes that really took our breath away. Expect the unexpected, that’s Portuguese wine, and that’s how we prepared for the tasting.

Sandeman: Old Wine in New Bottles

The first big surprise was at the Sogrape table, where George Sandeman was pouring 10, 20, 30 and 40-year old Sandeman Tawny Port (as well as other nice Ports and great red and white Douro wines). The wines weren’t the surprise — it was the bottle.

The traditional Port wine bottle is black, but these bottles were clear and let the color of the wine shine come through. The idea, according to an article in Drinks Business, is to change the perception of these wines, especially in on-trade.

Port is often stuck in a rut as a wine that you drink at the end of a meal and at Christmas, but the wines are really much more versatile than that. These clear bottles (with their elegant Vinilok closures) invite consumers and bartenders to also think of Port as a brown spirit that has many uses, including cocktails and aperitifs.

The new design does change the look of Sandeman Tawny Port and the image, too. I wonder if it will have its desired effect or if the potential consumer of a 40-year old wine, for example, might not really prefer the traditional package?sandeman-logo_use-small

It would be a mistake to dismiss this redesign too quickly. Image isn’t everything, but it is something and if you want people to think about Port differently it doesn’t hurt to change its look.

Remember that the great success of the Sandeman wine brand is due both to the quality of the Port and Sherry wines and also to the effectiveness of its advertising. “The Don” (with the Spanish hat and Portuguese student cape) is one of the most powerful images in wine and maybe in advertising generally. New bottles for old wine? I will be interested to see what happens.dalva1971

Old Wine in Old Bottles

Another surprise was in store as we looked for new types of Port to taste. White Port was one of our discoveries this year and we spent the summer introducing our friends to White Port spritz (equal parts dry white Port and tonic), which is a great alternative to the ubiquitous Aperol spritz.

I noticed that C.Da Silva was pouring older white Ports and I asked to try a bit, but nearly changed my mind when I saw the deep color of the 1971 vintage wine. It looked like a Tawny Port to me. But these old whites are aged in barrel like Tawnies and take on the dark color.

We tasted through the decades, back to that 1971, and the wines were just fascinating — familiar and different at the same time. Memorable!thumb_kopke-10-year-white_thumbnail0

We moved on to the Sogevinus table, where we tasted Kopke’s line of White Ports with 10, 20, 30 and 40 years of age. These old wines were packed in the traditional stenciled bottles. Old wine in old bottles. I found them really interesting, although Sue was drawn more to other styles, especially the Vintage and LBV Port wines.

We sat at with the group from the Rozés Port house at dinner and enjoyed their fine Terras do Grifo white and red Douro wines, which we had not had an opportunity to try before.

Portuguese Wines on the Rise

Portugal may be a small country, as we were often told, but it is big in terms of the diversity of its wines. Always something new and exciting to discover. And it is clear that U.S. consumers are discovering them. Port wine sales are on the rise, due in part to more creative marketing efforts that, as Paul Symington notes, are necessary to bring Port out of the “dinosaur age” in terms of the who, what, when, where and how of its consumption.

Portuguese wine sales in general are booming. The most recent Nielsen data (published in the December 2016 Wine Business Monthly) indicate that Portuguese wines sales have increased by 13.8 percent  in the most recent year. That growth rate ranks behind only France (15.7%) and New Zealand (15.5%) among imports, although Portugal starts from a much lower base. Outstanding!

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Thanks to the Association of Port Wine Companies (AEVP) for inviting us to the Seattle tasting and dinner. Best wishes for continued success!

The Name Game: Porto, Napa Diplomacy and the Fortified Wine Dilemma

portoThe Association of Port Wine Companies roadshow passed through Seattle recently and Sue and I were fortunate to be invited to attend the Porto and Douro Wines Tasting, a ceremony initiating several local wine trade representatives into the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, and a festive dinner hosted by the winemakers.

The events, which involved wines and representatives from eleven Port houses, had two main purposes. The first and most obvious was to introduce or re-introduce local restaurant and trade people to the Porto and Douro wines and to establish or renew relationships. In other words, this was a sales call and I will talk about this aspect next week. But first I want to discuss a secondary purpose: economic diplomacy.

Protecting the Brand

Champagne and Porto have two of the world’s most valuable regional wine “brands.” Sparkling wines are made all over the world, but Champagne can only comes from the Champagne region of France. Ditto Port wine and the Porto region.

When producers in other regions use these terms generically, they potentially dilute or devalue the brand. It is easy to see why this might be a problem. Trade treaties have enabled Champagne and Porto to assert their intellectual property rights here in the U.S., but with pre-existing commercial use “grandfathered” in. Thus Gallo legally sells inexpensive Andre’s California Champagne and Fairbanks Port.21344

Not all of the grandfathered brands are high volume value wines. Prager Royal Escort  Port, made from Napa Valley Petite Sirah grapes, sells for $90 per bottle for the current 2009 vintage release. It may not be real Porto Port, but it is a wonderful wine.

Champagne, Port and the other key regions would obviously like to see there brand rights more strictly enforced and they hoped to accomplish this as part of the big Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (T-TIP) that has been in negotiation between the U.S. and the European Union for some time.

Shifting Political Winds

But the political winds have changed directions (in case you haven’t noticed) and big trade agreements are now pretty much off the table. The incoming Trump administration seems more likely to dismantle existing trade deals than to encourage new ones. The political environment in Europe is no sunnier.

Even a fairly straightforward trade treaty with Canada nearly collapsed at the last minute when officials in the parliament of the Belgian region of Wallonia raised objections. Reminds me of The Mouse that Roared.

Facing this political roadblock, the Porto producers have turned to the art of persuasion — diplomacy. Thus the photo above, which shows George Sandeman at the October 27 Confraria induction ceremony in San Francisco where Boyd Family Vineyards, Freemark Abbey, Jessup Cellars and Schweiger Vineyards were welcomed into the Brotherhood of Port to honor their commitment to respect the traditional use of the Porto brand.

The Napa-Porto Connection

Napa Valley Vintners was also recognized for their work to protect place names. Napa has particular interest in this issue because the Napa brand itself is very valuable and, like Champagne and Port, is at risk of being diluted in various ways. It is no accident, therefore that the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place Names and Origins,  which an increasing number of regions are embracing, is also called The Napa Declaration on Place. Porto and Napa were founding members of this initiative.

I asked George Sandeman (the handsome fellow in full Confraria regalia in the photo above) about the situation and he noted that “Napa producers switched away from Champagne on a voluntary basis long ago.  Now nobody in Napa Valley produces Champagne, even though they legally may do so according to US law (those grandfathered in the 2006 Wine Accords).  The producers in Napa have made that change as a show of respect to the Champagne region.”

“There has been discussion for several years of doing the same for Port,” he continued, “and now the first handful of Napa producers voluntarily made a switch away from the term “port” to something else, even though they weren’t legally compelled to do so.  It was a sign of respect to Porto and the Port producers, but also an acknowledgment that it is important to “walk the talk” when it comes to respecting and protecting winegrowing place names.”

Not Port: The Name Game

One problem that the makers of Port-style wines face is “the name game” — how to describe their products and market them without using the forbidden terms. It is a tricky business. Poking around our little cellar, for example, I found two examples of winemakers who make interesting wines and work hard to stay inside the lines.mfw

Hedges Family Estate, for example, makes very small quantities of wine from traditional Port grapes (plus a little Cabernet Sauvignon in the example we have). The back label clearly identifies itself as “Fortified Wine,” which accurately describes the process and is one possible generic descriptor of these wines. Unfortunately, the terminology also emphasizes alcoholic strength and not everyone will see that as a positive.

Mosquito Fleet Winery makes a fortified wine called Griffersen Reserve from Touriga Nacional grapes . As with Hedges, the term “Port” is carefully avoided on the package. Small print on the back label describes the product as “dessert wine,” emphasizing sweetness and the after-dinner occasion instead of alcoholic content or production process. This is accurate (at the winery you are served a taste in a small dark chocolate cup– yum!), but is obviously also vague and somewhat limiting as a category.

If you called either of these wines Port they would be easy for consumers to understand. The diplomatic initiative to protect the Port producers’ brand would be more effective if someone could find a generic term that works as well for these wines as “sparkling wine” does for wines made in the Champagne style and method. The lack of such a term means that honest efforts to respect Porto’s rights in theory frequently fail in practice. While Hedges and Mosquito Fleet won’t call their wines “Port” nearly everyone else does when they refer to them.

What’s the best way to honor and protect the Port brand while also allowing U.S. producers to identify and successfully market their own fine wines? The name game continues.

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Seems like Shirley Ellis could solve the Porto name game dilemma.

 

What’s Ahead for the Wine Economy? 2017 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium

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Sue and I are looking forward to the 2017 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, which is set for January 24-27, 2017 in Sacramento, California. The Unified Symposium is the largest wine industry gathering in North America, drawing as many as 14,000 people for the sessions, trade show, and gatherings.

This year’s conference features a number of interesting sessions, some of which are presented in both English and Spanish. I will paste the program below for your inspection. Three sessions particularly caught my eye this year.

And Now For Something Completely Different200x200

Eric Asimov, the New York Times‘ wine critic, will give the luncheon address on Tuesday January 24. I am thinking that Asimov’s talk will be a bit different from the 2016 lunch speaker — Fred Franzia!

Fred didn’t pull many punches in challenging his audience and gave us a lot to think about. I expect Asimov’s take to be completely  different, but equally challenging.

Stephen Rannekleiv of Rabobank and Damien Wilson of Sonoma State University will present an analysis of “The Global Market for Wine” on Wednesday afternoon and I will certainly be in the audience. What a big topic! I’m looking forward to seeing what particular trends they pick out and how they see the wine economy developing given all the economic and political changes going on.

State of the Industry

The “State of the Industry” session will go live at 8:30 on Wednesday morning and I will be back as both moderator and speaker. The program is always interesting and draws a huge standing-room-only crowd as the photo above shows.

Joining me this year are three terrific speakers: Nat DiBuduo of Allied Grape Growers,
Danny Brager from The Nielsen Company and Glenn Proctor of Ciatti Company. I’ll be interested to hear what Nat, Danny and Glenn have to say about the wine industry in 2016 and what’s ahead for 2017 and beyond. They really know their stuff — should be a terrific session. Hope to see you at the Unified. Cheers!

Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Program

Tuesday January 24

7:30 am – 6:30 pm Registration

11:30 am – 1:30 pm Keynote Speaker Luncheon
Eric Asimov, New York Times, New York
Separate Registration Fee Required

2:00 pm – 4:00 pm Sauvignon blanc: Vine to Bottle (includes tasting)
Joint Grapegrowing & Winemaking Breakout Session

2:00 pm – 4:00 pm Focus, Focus, Focus: Listen to Learn
Marketing/Public Relations Breakout Session

2:00 pm – 4:00 pm Finding Value in Sustainability
Business/Operations Breakout Session

4:30 pm – 6:30 pm Welcome Reception

Wednesday January 25

7:30 am – 5:30 pm Registration

8:30 am – 11:00 am State of the Industry
General Session

9:00 am – 6:00 pm Exhibits Open

1:00 pm – 2:15 pm Not Your Ordinary Yeast: Using Innovated Strains and Fermentation Techniques to Increase Wine Quality and Drive Wine Styles
Winemaking Breakout Session

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm Looking Forward: How Grapevine Clean Plant Strategies Can be Improved
Grapegrowing Breakout Session

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm The Global Market for Wine
Business & Operations Breakout Session

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm Making the Most of Your Message: Building a Bridge Between Winegrowing, Marketing & PR to Effectively Reach Today’s Consumer
Marketing/Public Relations Breakout Session

2:30 pm – 3:45 pm Eggs, Uprights, Puncheons and More: Making Your Best Wine in Unusual Containers
Winemaking Breakout Session

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm Regional Wine Tasting

6:15 pm – 8:00 pm UC Davis Viticulture & Enology Alumni, Students, Faculty and Friends Reception

Thursday January 26

8:00 am – 4:00 pm Registration

9:00 am – 4:00 pm Exhibits Open

9:00 am – 11:30 am Adapt or Go Extinct: Removing Barriers to Our Industry’s Success
General Session

9:00 am – 10:30 am Presentada en español (Presented in Spanish)

Tecnologías de vanguardia para la producción de uva y elaboración de vino
Sesión General en español

Leading-edge Technology in Grapegrowing and Winemaking
Spanish General Session

10:45 am – Noon Presentada en español (Presented in Spanish)

La decisión inteligente de utilizar material de propagación limpio
Sesión en Español de Viticultura

The Smart Decision of Using Clean Plant Material
Spanish Grapegrowing Breakout Session

10:45 am – Noon Presentada en español (Presented in Spanish)

El Arte de Encontrar el Balance Ideal de un Vino
Sesión en Español de Enología

The Art of Finding a Wine’s Ideal Balance (Sweet Spot)
Spanish Winemaking Breakout Session

11:30 am – 1:00 pm Hosted Buffet Luncheon

1:15 pm – 3:15 pm Cooperage Alternatives
Winemaking English Tour

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm Presentada en español (Presented in Spanish)

Alternativas de Tonelería
Tour en Español de Enología

1:15 pm – 2:15 pm FSMA – Food Safety Modernization Act
Winemaking Breakout Session

1:15 pm – 3:15 pm Beyond the Tasting Room: Marketing Your Wines Today
Marketing/Public Relations Breakout Session

1:15 pm – 3:15 pm Vineyard Mechanization: Moving to the “No Touch Vineyard?
Grapegrowing Breakout Session

1:15 pm – 3:15 pm To Grow or Not to Grow: While the Common Wisdom Is That Growth is Good, is it Really? And if it is Good for You, How to do It?
Business & Operations Breakout Session

1:15 pm – 3:15 pm Mechanization
Grapegrowing English Tour

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm Presentada en español (Presented in Spanish)

Mecanización
Tour en Español de Viticultura

2:30 pm – 3:30 pm Beyond the Bottle:  Packaging Innovations for Winemakers
Winemaking Breakout Session

The Beat Goes On: Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course

9781454913641_p0_v2_s192x300Kevin Zraly Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (revised & updated edition)New York: Sterling Epicure, 2016.

I don’t know if Kevin Zraly has a theme song — a tune that they play when he enters the room or takes the stage — but if he doesn’t have one I would like to suggest “The Beat Goes On.” I think it fits him like a glove.

Windows on the Wine World

Zraly was instrumental in getting the wine beat going here in the United States through his work at the Windows on the World restaurant in New York and his high-impact teaching at the Windows on the World Wine School.

Zraly’s tenure at the restaurant lasted from its first day of business in 1976 (a key year for wine in America) until September 11, 2001. You know that date, I am sure, and it will make sense when I remind you that Windows on the World was located at the top of One World Trade Center.

The restaurant was gone after 9/11, but the beat went on. The school moved uptown, but didn’t really miss a beat until Zraly decided to retire from teaching this fall, after 40 years and more than 20,000 students. So now the school is gone, too, but the beat still goes on in the form of the latest edition of this book.

A Confidence Game

The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course is the closest thing that most people will have to taking the actual course with Kevin Zraly and it is valuable resource both for the wine novices that it was written for and for wine veterans, too.

Newbies learn enough about wine to develop the personal confidence they need to enjoy wine and not be unnecessarily intimidated by it. This confidence is vital to wine sales in restaurants and shops, too. Remember: no one has to buy wine and many do not because they are afraid of making a mistake.

Wine veterans will appreciate the book, too, because Zraly’s enthusiasm is totally contagious and reading it reminds us of why we fell in love with wine in the first place.kevin-zraly-sm

What’s new for this edition? The basic structure remains the same, which is a good thing. Zraly’s brilliant original strategy was to organize the class and then the book around a typical restaurant wine list — whites on this side, reds on the other, sorted by regions and so on.

You get key information about the regions and the wines plus suggested producers, food pairings, comparative tasting prompts and a lot more. Where some books seem to be written for technical WSET exam prep classes, Zraly aims to prepare his students for real world exams — choosing and enjoying wines at restaurants and shops.

More. Give Me More

The text has been updated along with the graphic design and I think both are great. Wine is changing so fast that it is hard to keep up (and impossible to be really complete), but this edition does a good job in both respects. The graphics work because the bright colors stimulate the mind’s eye and are used to convey information in a consistent style. Sue noted that the design allows a great deal of information to be packed onto each page. It is attractive and useful, not distracting as is so often the case.

I have always admired previous editions of this book, but I wanted more. More countries and regions and maps and — most important — more Kevin Zraly. More Zraly because it is his dynamic personal relationship to wine (and his student/readers) that makes this book great.

I think I will always want more in terms of wine regions, etc. — love to see information here about Portuguese wines besides Port and maybe Georgian wines now that I have visited here. But I understand that this isn’t an encyclopedia and, at 360 pages, it is already pretty big.

But what makes me happiest is that the sense that you are listening to Kevin Zraly, learning from him and getting excited by his excitement — that sense is fuller than ever before. More Zraly? Simply irresistible! That’s what makes the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course essential reading for all wine lovers.

Congratulations to Kevin Zraly on his achievements, awards, and contributions to wine in America. And thanks for this book, which extends his influence into the future. The beat goes on!

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“The Beat Goes On” is a Sonny and Cher tune (Sonny Bono wrote it), but I thought you might enjoy this version by the Buddy Rich band — it really swings. Cheers.

 

Book Review: A Dynamic New History of the French Wine Industry

12912-160Rod Phillips, French Wine: A History. University of California Press, 2016.

Many people think that history is the study of facts and I suspect that they might not be strongly attracted to a book called French Wine: A History. Another book full of facts about French wine? Oh, no!

But history is really the study of change not just facts and it’s that dynamic sense that makes history generally and Rod Phillips’ new book about French wine, so interesting and exciting. Yes, I admit that there are lots of facts here, but Phillips puts them to work telling the story of the changing world of wine, or France, and French wine.

The book has a multi-dimensional organization. The nine chapters proceed chronologically starting with the beginnings to 1000 CE and ending with 1945 to the present, when Phillips argues that French wine was reinvented. Each era of history is organized according to a few dominating themes, with case studies that most effectively explore the issues. It’s an organization that works, although I would have appreciated headings within each chapter to make the outline even clearer.

Phillips apologizes in his introduction that this theme-based approach means that some regions — Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne in particular — get more attention than others, but they are the places where change is often more dramatic or apparent. He notes that any attempt to treat all the regions equally would dilute the narrative and, in my view, turn this from a dynamic history into a stale book of facts.

Wine, the wine industry, and shifting wine markets all treated here. Examples? Well, the chapter on the Middle Ages provides much to think about. The British loved a wine they called Claret, for example, which today means a dark red wine from Bordeaux. But that’s not what the term meant back in the day when it was coined.

Clairet wines came from many places besides Bordeaux and their key characteristic was that they were not dark red. They were fairly clear (compared with red wines), field blends of red and white grapes of various degrees of ripeness that were pinkish more than red. They were the default non-white wines until the 17th century, Phillips tells us, which suggests just how much French wine has changed.

That same chapter explores the changing role of wine in the French diet at the time. Wine was more than a drink, it was a very significant source of calories as the high consumption levels reported here suggest.

Factoid alert: I could not help but be a little envious when I read the list of provisions for the 1251 wedding of Alexander III of Scotland to King Henry III’s daughter Margaret: 1300 deer, 7000 hens, 170 boars, 60,000 herrings, 68,500 loaves of bread … and 96,500 liters of wine. Wow, what a feast.

A great deal has changed over the years in both the wines and their role in our lives, but it is a mistake to think that the most dramatic changes are in the long-ago past (the Middle Ages) or even the more recent past (Phylloxera in the 19th century, the rise of the appellation system in the 20th century).

My favorite chapter examines the last half-century, which Phillips suggests is a golden age of French wine. I learned a lot from his analysis of the French wine industry in the early post-war years. I was impressed by the discussion of the French-Algerian wine relationship and Algeria’s rapid decline from its position as the world’s largest wine exporter (mainly to France) to its much more marginal role in global wine today.

I was particularly interested in Phillips’ take on the changing status of wine in French society and French wine in the global market. The analysis is typically thorough and thought-provoking. He notes that the decline in per capita wine consumption in France, for example, coincides with the development of a mass market for bottled water.This, plus anti-alcohol laws and regulations, explains a lot. The decline in wine consumption has many effects including, he argues, a change in social behavior as the number of cafés licensed to sell wine and spirits has collapsed.

The more things change the more they stay the same — that’s a famous French saying, and it occurred to me several times as I was reading this book. Concerns about wine fraud and adulteration appear frequently in French history, just as I suspect they will in future histories of Chinese wine!

French Wine: A History is a fascinating book that belong’s on every wine lover’s bookshelf. Highly recommended.

Talking About My Generation: Wine Spectator Turns 40

WS111516_CoverUS.indd“Don’t look back,” Satchel Paige said, “something might be gaining on you.” That’s probably good advice in most circumstances, but sometimes it pays to glance over your shoulder to get some perspective on the present and inspiration for what’s ahead.

That’s what Wine Spectator magazine has done in their November 15, 2016 issue, which celebrates their 40th year. The very first issue was dated April 1-15, 1976.  A lot has changed since then. The magazine has changed, the wine world has changed, and we have all changed, too.

Start at the Beginning

The editors confront all this change in many interesting ways. Several illustrated features that look back at memorable wine world events and trends in each decade and provide interesting profiles of the important personalities who shaped the industry and our perception of it.

Publisher Marvin Shanken and the senior editors provide personal reflections and a gallery of covers captures the dynamic wine world through colorful images. Harvey Steiman’s contribution is an intriguing essay on “The Future of Wine.”

Although I appreciate all the essays and features, I admit that my favorite part of this issue is the reproduction of the very first Wine Spectator that is included with the magazine.  It is impossible to resist the temptation to compare the 288-page current Wine Spectator with its 11-page ancestor. A lot of the change in wine can be seen dramatically just be looking at these two publications side-by-side.

1976 and All Thatwinespectatordebutissue

Many of my friends read Wine Spectator for its wine reviews and ratings — they start at the back of the magazine, not the front — but the 1976 issue provides very little in the way of consumer guidance. It was more of a wine trade publication, filled with news and features not wines and scores. The page one headline, for example, was “Hearings set to define ‘estate bottled’ wines,” something of more interest to industry readers than consumers.

“California wines win high awards” is the lead article on page 10 and, since it was 1976, the year of the Judgement of Paris, I expected to read about the now legendary triumph of California wines over their more famous French rivals. But the Paris tasting was on May 24, 1976 — more than a month in the future when this issue hit the streets.

The awards that Wine Spectator reported here were those given at the Oenological Institute’s International Wine Awards in London and the big California winners were Inglenook and Italian Swiss Colony, both then owned by the United Vintners. The 1972 Inglenook Petite Sirah received the highest mark of any American wine while several Italian Swiss Colony wines were awarded silver medals. Italian Swiss made no vintage-dated wines at the time, according to the article, something that set them apart from most of the wines judged in this international tasting.

It’s a Corker!

Wine Spectator today is filled with advertisements — especially the 40th anniversary issue, which features many colorful full-page tributes by industry supporters. Not many ads in the 1976 issue by comparison. My favorite is “It’s a Corker! from Paul Masson,” which highlights the real cork stopper in the “new generic magnums” of Burgundy, Chabils, and Sauterne.

Other ads promoted Concannon’s Muscat Blanc, Ambassador’s Colombard Rosé, Voltaire’s Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc (Voltaire was a Geyser Peak Winery brand), B&G, Sebastiani, and Llords & Elwood (“makers of ultra-premium, award winning champagne, table wines, sherries and port”).

Wine Spectator today features both more advertisements and very different ones. Wine ads dominate, but you will also find those bought by non-wine companies that seek to promote their lifestyle products to the affluent readership base.

Back to the Future

A lot has changed since Wine Spectator #1 and Harvey Steiman’s essay sums it up very well. Back in the day when Steiman first discovered his interest in wine the world was much simpler. Baby boomers understood that Old World trumped New World and pretty much nothing could beat France (Bordeaux for reds, Steiman writes, and Burgundy for whites).

The boomers’ challenge has been to broaden their understanding of wine (more countries and regions) and to deepen it, too, learning about more varieties and styles. We have come a long way, but Steiman thinks there is still a long way to go for us to fully appreciate,  embrace and enjoy the wonder and diversity that wine promises.

Talking About Generations

He is optimistic about the future, pinning his hopes in part on the Millennials, who are undisciplined in good ways and more open to new places, faces, and experiences. Starting from 2016 instead of 1976 and with Millennial attitudes, the sky could be the limit. Fingers crossed.

I think Steiman is right about this, but it is important to appreciate (as I am sure he does) that the generational shift is not the whole story. Generational categories sometimes hide as much as they reveal. We think of baby boomers as driving the wine boom in the U.S., for example, but don’t forget that most boomers don’t drink wine and a great many of them consume no alcohol at all. Sometimes the changing patterns within and across generational groups are as important as the differences between them.

It is important to put wine in context. The world of wine in 1976, as represented by that first issue, was pretty closed. If you look at recent Wine Spectator issues, on the other hand, you can see that it is not just wine that has changed but our idea of wine and how we relate to it, which I believe reflects changing social patterns generally, and not just about wine. For readers of Wine Spectator, wine is not just a drink but part of a sophisticated lifestyle, which is why food and travel are featured so prominently in the magazine and celebrities make frequent appearances, too.

Congratulations on Your (and Our) Success

Wine has been a success in the United States because it has become more and more relevant to the way that consumers live their lives now. As the cultural context continues to change, wine will need to find its meaning and its place. The fact, which Steiman highlights, that wine is not one thing but a great many, gives us confidence that the best days are still to come.

Congratulations to everyone at Wine Spectator for a great 40 years of telling wine’s tale. Looking forward to the next chapter in your (and our) story.

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