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The Long and Winding Pinot Road

This Christmas Eve I sat down to dinner with my family for a “traditional” Southern California holiday meal: chips and guacamole, salsa, tamales, refried beans and Modelo Negro beer. As we ate, I reflected upon where I started, how far I have come, and where I plan to go next year.

I never drank wine growing up. Like most families in the 1950s, beer and cocktails were the drinks of choice for most adults. Alcoholic beverages were rarely seen on the dinner table, except for maybe an occasional beer when chili was on the menu. I can’t remember when I first drank a dry wine, but I think it was Champagne brought to my house by my French aunt.

The quartet of wines I remember most fondly had a little sweetness. Mateus was a moderately dry rosé wine from Portugal. The story goes that the wine was invented in 1942 by Fernando Van Zeller Guedes whose family made Port and grew Vinho Verde grapes. Mateus was really the “in” drink in the 1960s and at one point the wine made up 40% of Portugal’s export income. Practically every college-age person had an empty Mateus flask that was converted into a candle holder. I also downed many bottles of another similar drink, Lancers, which had become wildly popular by the early 1970s. André Cold Duck was still another star during the 1960s, a slightly sweet sparkling wine made by Gallo from Concord grapes that was guaranteed to provide an agonizing hangover the next day. Blue Nun was the wine to order on a date. It was packaged in an impressive slim tall bottle and had a label that read Liebfraumilch (“Milk of Our Blessed Mother”). Again, this generic white wine was slightly sweet, but even better, it was cheap and low in alcohol.

As I progressed through the end of high school, college and medical school during the 1960s, there was no such thing as a “varietal” wine in California. It wasn’t until 1974 that Gallo made the first varietal wines such as Hearty Burgundy and Chianti. But it was four years earlier, in 1970, that my world became transformed. To be continued… … ….

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