“Charleston was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
The minis skirts, the current thing, uh huh
Teenybopper is our newborn king, uh huh”
A musical introduction for the latest Monthly Wine Writing Challenge and this is the thirty-fifth entry, but somehow, I missed one, so it is my thirty-fourth entry. Erik of “Red, White and Cru” had the honor of winning the last time and his award is to pick the theme for the newest challenge and his word is “eclipse.” Now last month the eclipse was one of the hottest topics in the media, as well as Social Media, so it makes sense. How does one link eclipse to wine? I went to my dictionary that is a focal point in the library and looked up the word, yes, I could have just used Google, but I predate Google and when I wanted to research something I started with the dictionary. Beyond the mentioning of the lunar and solar eclipse, which is what most people think of, there is another meaning “to leave out, pass over, to forsake, to cease, to be eclipsed.” There was my starting point and it was great to let me relive some of the earlier days of wine enjoyment.
The first big push that I could remember in wine, trying to get new drinkers from the cocktail crowd and the beer crowd was from a winery in Portugal and that was Mateus Rosé in their very unique shaped bottle. The advertising campaign was extremely successful and people were considered very trendy and cosmopolitan for drinking this wine. It was everywhere. There were a few other major wine campaigns that began, because of it. Dean Martin and his “Little Old Wine Drinker, Me” kind of paraphrased the Swiss Colony Winemakers of California slogan and it was also a big hit with Robert Mitchum. Orson Welles many years after his Citizen Kane began touting “We will serve no wine, before its time” for Ernest and Julio Gallo. Mateus held their own, until they were eclipsed by a charming character in a white suit, Aldo Cella, for Cella Lambrusco and the world was enamored with Lambrusco, and I think that this was the start of the trends in the wine industry; and it has been going on ever since.
In those old days, people did not eat out as much, not like today, so going out was a treat. French cuisine was rather imposing, but Italian food became the leading restaurant for something different than what was being made at home. Chianti was one of the first wines that most people could pronounce and ventured to try, to be chic, when having a plate of pasta or a big pizza pie. Most Italian eateries back then had as part of their decorations fiascha bottles everywhere. Fiascha bottles were these squat green bottles that were wrapped with wicker and they were very cute, the wicker-works probably cost more than the wine, but people were discovering wine more each day. It didn’t take long for the fiascha to be eclipsed by Chianti in a real wine bottle, and then there was Chianti Classico which even became more prevalent and accepted. Brolio and Ruffino became power houses and to this day, I am sure that the majority of the wine drinkers can identify these brands and would still order them and they would have a fine bottle of wine, especially if they were Riserva. Then Chianti and almost all other Italian red wines were eclipsed by the “Super Tuscan” wines that emerged. Here was a case of French grapes that were grown in Italy, by some rebels and renegades and the rebellion won. Wines with the names of Ornellaia and Sassicaia became famous, in fact so famous that Bolgheri Sassicaia went from a Table Wine designation to having Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC. The world was moving at a much faster pace.
White wines were not left in the dust either, back in the early days for most of the population there were wines called California Chablis, which had no relation to the Chablis wines of France, in fact it was even made from different grapes. The world was looking for a white wine and I think the marketing genius of Jess Jackson emerged with his Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay took off and it is still, I am sure, the largest Chardonnay brand known to the public and it is always a safe bet to order. Then there was a curious backlash and a new movement began, as the wine drinking public discovered a new rallying cry “ABC” or “Anything but Chardonnay,” and while Chardonnay was not totally eclipsed it was getting more competition. The public was getting more savvy and they started looking for other white wines and some growers in California, Australia and New Zealand hit the gold mine with Sauvignon Blanc a white wine that was not buttery and had a fruit-forward taste that became accepted. There was also an Italian varietal that captured the imagination of this new group of wine drinkers that became much more accepted than even its French cousin. Pinot Grigio was easy to say, and I think sounded nicer than Pinot Gris and another wine front was created. While all of this was happening, there were other wineries that were making crisp Chardonnay wines and eschewing the oak barrels for a totally different taste.
After 1976 the French were totally eclipsed by this area of the world that at one time was not taken seriously called California. There were a group of winemakers that have been endearingly called the Rhone Rangers and they were growing to that time some unknown grape varietals that were famous in France, especially in the Rhone Valley and while not all of them are using grape for grape versions this concept has taken off and it has allowed more of the population to try even more new wines and sometimes at considerable savings to the wines that they are emulating across the pond in France. It is just not the Rhone Valley that is getting attacked, the famed and beloved Clarets of Bordeaux are feeling it as well. A new group of wines emerged with fanciful proprietary names that really didn’t evoke anything, but they were Bordeaux blends and a society was formed to further entrench this concept, and the society has stringent rules and the wines are now called Meritage. In fact, some of the early “Meritage” wines were made by the French who opened wineries in Napa Valley; think of Dominus and Opus One.
There is one triangle of grapes that are always eclipsing each other and for an amusing take on this, Gundlach Bundschu Winery has made a delightful mini-film about the constant cycle of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. These three varietals are always in the forefront and always attempting to gain the limelight from the other two. Cabernet Sauvignon is king and it has always held that position both in the Old World as well as the New World. Merlot is the one waiting in the wings for the new crown, as it is more mellow and not as feisty as a Cab to a lot of drinkers. Pinot Noir the most finnicky grape to grow has its steady army to back it up as well. These three always seem to be in a perpetual ebb and flow of solar and lunar eclipses amongst themselves. I am sure that this triangle will continue long after I have stopped drinking the nectar of the Gods.
There will always be a new region, a new country and a new varietal that will attempt another eclipse and they will have their moment in the sun. As for me, call me an old diplomat in my spats, striped pants, vest and cutaway coat; but I will always find the occasion where one will be chosen over the others, as I have had the good fortune to watch the rise and fall of all of the wines that I have mentioned, as well as watching the horizon for new stars. Just watch me go “gaga” if I see a Cabernet Franc on a wine carte while having dinner. The only constant is change, just like the eclipse, though the eclipse phases are good sports and actually do them on a set date.
“And the beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.”