The wines we were – a 1970s flashback

When regular people look at a picture from the past, the 1970s to be more specific, they blurt out the usual comments such as “bad hair,” “fashion victim,” or “did I really dress like that?” When a wine person looks at a picture from the seventies, at the holiday dinner table for example, a high-pitched screech emanates from within, “is that Cold Duck on the table?”

Yes, wine memories from the 1970s. For those of you who were of legal age during this time come take a walk down memory lane. For those of you who are not familiar with these wines come along as well. It will make you appreciate wines which are available today and will either make you laugh, or grimace.

Then: Cold Duck. The wine was invented by Harold Borgman in Detroit in 1937. Ole Harry got his bright idea from a German custom of mixing all the dregs from leftover wine with sparkling. The original idea even sounds sketchy: one part of Californian red wine with two parts of New York sparkling wine. The idea, with a heavy dose of sugar, caught on with mass producers such as Andre and Taylor. If one looks closely, there still may be a Cold Duck lurking on a shelf near you.

Now. A nice sparkling shiraz from Australia, Mollydooker Goosebumps Sparkling Shiraz, South Australia or California, Wattle Creek Sparkling Shiraz, Yorkville Highlands. There are also some nice sparkling reds from Italy. Pederzana Lambrusco Grasparossa, a Lambrusco dry red sparkling wine from Emilia Romagna, Italy.

Then: Blue Nun. Another iconic wine of that decade, is a German wine brand launched by the company H. Sichel Söhne, Mainz, in 1923 with the 1921 vintage, and which between the 1950s and 1980s was probably the largest international wine brand. It came with a tragic label that featured, you guessed it, a Nun adorned in a blue habit. It was a semi-sweet white German wine called Liebfraumilch, which literally means “Beloved lady’s milk.”

Now: Germany has been producing quality wines since Roman times. Historically, the wines have been predominantly white, and the finest made from the Riesling grape. Rieslings can be produced in different styles; dry, semi-sweet and sweet. Your local wine merchant can help steer you toward personal preference. Some excellent producers to look for include; Fritz Haag, Heymann-Löwenstein, von Hövel, Dr. Loosen, Joh. Jos. Prüm, Schmitges, Dr. Burkin Wolf, and Maximin Grunhaus.

Then: Lancers and Mateus. These medium-sweet frizzante rosés are a gift from Portugal. Mention Portugal and most people think Port. If you go back a few decades this was not the case. These wines epitomized the wines of Portuguese to wine drinkers the world over. Not only were these wines cheap and easy to drink, they came in bottles with a unique shape. No home was complete without a lava lamp, some beautiful shag carpet and either a Mateus or Lancers bottle with a candle stuck in the top flickering in the middle of the dinner table. Good times.

Now: Portugal has come a long way on two fronts. First it has successfully marketed Ports to the world wine market. Although Port has been around for centuries, it has only been in the past few decades it has gained significant recognition in the American wine market. Second, Portugal is starting to produce and export some very nice still wines. Quality has increased exponentially in the past 15 years. Some good Port producers: Fonseca, Taylors, Quinta do Noval, Warres, Dows, Grahams, Niepoort. Some of the best still wine producers: Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, Luis Pato and Quinta Dos Roques.

A shout out to some other stars of the 1970s: Night Train, Thunderbird, Ripple, MD 20/20 and Boone’s Farm, Cisco, Wild Irish Rose. Enough said.

Windee Smith is the proprietor of the The Valley Wine Shack, 535 W. Napa St.  in Sonoma.


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