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A Civilized Past Time -The Cultural Shift To Drinking Wine During Meals


The Cultural Shift To Drinking Wine During Meals

In the ’60s and early ’70s, wine was plentiful, mostly in the sweet red (Lam­brusco), sweet white (Liebfrau­milch), sweet fizzy (Mateus and Lancers) and jug wines (Almaden Rhine Wine, Inglenook Chablis, Gallo Hearty Burgundy, etc.). At a steak house, most would have a mixed drink before dinner (after the law was changed in Texas allowing mixed drink sales in public restaurants), and then have dinner and leave. Contrast that to today, where at nearly every table is a glass or bottle of wine enjoyed throughout the meal. What factors caused this cultural shift?

Actually, a number of factors, including wine writers (there were a miniscule number of us when I started “Moody’s Wine Review” in January 1978) — Robert Law­rence Balzer and Robert Finnegan being primary out of a handful known nationally. Since then, Robert Parker and myriad others have appeared on the scene, and every other newspaper and magazine started a wine column.

A second and important factor was and is the part played by Italian and French restaurants in engendering a culture in this country — like the one extant in their countries — of enjoying food and wine together for a more memorable dining experience. And finally, in the ’70s, the quality of the best varietal wines increased dramatically, as was verified by the 1973 Chateau Montelena Napa Chardonnay and the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Napa Cabernet Sauvignon whipping their top competitors from France in the 1976 “Paris Tasting” (see p. 48-49 of my book, The Advanced Oenophile).

For a while in the ’80s, it seemed that many wines were beginning to taste alike, probably because of the cross-fertilization, so to speak, of aspiring American winemakers working in wineries in Europe and Australia, and aspiring European winemakers starting off in Napa. There was a shift towards more great varietals and less interest in local grapes. At some point in the ’90s, this reversed, and it became quite in vogue for one to revive or greatly improve one’s indigenous varietals.

While the following wines are not all indigenous to these countries, it has now become all the rage to know about much more than to be able to order a good Chardonnay or Cabernet from the wine list. Here are some more or less newbies for most wine lovers to seek out and add to their ken:

  • France — Reds from Languedoc-Rousillon; Tannat from Madiran; Malbec from Cahors
  • Italy — Grillo (white); Aglianico, Primitivo and Sagrantino (red)
  • Spain — Verdejo and Godello (white); Cariñena and Garnacha from Priorato; Mencia and Monastrell from Bierzo (red); Monastrell from Jumilla; Pedro Ximénez (very sweet Sherry)
  • Chile — Carmenére (red)
  • Argentina —Torrontes (white); Bonarda (red)
  • Austria — Gruner Veltliner (white)
  • South Africa — Chenin Blanc (white)
  • Australia — Semillon from Hunter Valley (white)
  • Portugal — Touriga Nacional (red —usually in a blend with other reds such as Tinta Roriz)
  • Greece — Assyrtiko (red)
  • Hungary — Furmint (white)
  • Texas — Viognier and Vermentino (white); GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre — red); Tempranillo (red)

RECENTLY TASTED WINNERS  (All great values in their price ranges)


  • Casal Garcia Sparkling Wine Medium Dry (Portugal) non-vintage —“Aromas of white flowers and tropical fruit.” Vinho Verde Grape — quality, sweet sparkler. Crowd pleaser! $12
  • E Astoria Prosecco DOC Treviso non-vintage — Creamy and luscious. One of the best I’ve tasted in any price range! Elegant, with watermelon and strawberries. $16
  • Carpene Malvolti Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene “1868 Exta Dry” — Excellent rendition of Prosecco. Perfect with goat cheese with honey on Artisan crackers. $17



  • Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige) 2015 — One of Italy’s premier sites for Pinot Grigio, this wine has a beautiful color with aromas of pears and apples. $12
  • Senda Verde Treixadura Ribiero 2015 — Alluring honeydew flavors with excellent acidity and minerality. Pair with nuts, goat cheese or seafood. $18
  • Martin Ray Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2015 — “Inviting, ripe summer fruits, lively acidity and pronounced minerality.” A great brand resuscitated by new owners. $20
  • Lula Sauvignon Blanc Mariah Vineyard Anderson Valley 2015 — From a dry-farmed vineyard at an elevation of 2,450 feet. No use of oak to preserve the almost-perfect fruit! Subdued grapefruit and fig aromas and excellent acidity. Try with grilled chicken with mango sauce. $22
  • Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) 2015 — The flagship of Nobilo wines from one of New Zealand’s pioneer estates established in 1943. A step above the very good regular offering. Delicious. $22
  • Kim Crawford Small Parcels Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris 2014 — WOW! Pinot Gris doesn’t get much better than this — anywhere! Rich palate with pear, honeysuckle and spice. $28



  • M de Mulonnière de Anjou 2015 — Acquired by the iconic Saget family in 2002, this historic estate has been producing wine since 1860. This is the Chateau’s second wine, but one would never guess that from the quality! $18
  • Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé (Spain) 2015 — From the only winery in Spain certified by the World Wildlife Fund for Environmental Responsibility. 100 percent Tempranillo and a treat! $19.99



  • 19 Crimes Red Wine Southeastern Australia 2015 — In 18th Century Britain, if a person was convicted of one of the 19 crimes that were punishable by extradition, from petty larceny to impersonating an Egyptian, a penal colony in Australia was the next stop. Very appropriate label. Dark berry fruits, chocolate and cedar. So good at this price, almost a crime! $12
  • Tommasi Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013 — Classic blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, this is a tremendous effort. Elegant wine with cherry and spice. Perfect with grilled meats and meat pizzas. $18
  • Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2009 — Without question, the best wine of this type at this price point that I have had the pleasure of tasting. Rich, with texture, class and tender tannins. Perfect with 6-month-old Manchego on Triscuits!! $19.99


A Civilized Past Time -The Cultural Shift To Drinking Wine During Meals

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