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“That it is good for one’s health to get drunk sometimes” : Illustrations of Bacchus from Albert-Henri de Sallengre “L’eloge de l’yvresse” 1714

Albert-Henri de Sallengre (1694-1723) was born in The Hague to French Protestant refugee parents.  He was a lawyer, adviser to the Prince of Orange, and even a member of the Royal Society in London.  He is the subject of this post because he is the author of L’eloge de l’yvresse (1714) or “The Praise of Drunkenness”.

Sallengre, Albert-Henri de. "L'eloge de l'yvresse" 1714. [1]

Sallengre, Albert-Henri de. “L’eloge de l’yvresse” 1714. [1]

This book was translated into other languages which feature a different illustration.  In the original French version there is an image of a cherubic Bacchus sitting astride a small cask of wine holding both a cup and a grape cluster.  In the background are two satyrs one with a wine cup and the other a pitcher.  In Greek mythology satyrs were companions of Dionysus.

In Bacchus auf seinem Thron (1724) or “Bacchus on his Throne” there is a similar illustration yet this time Bacchus is a young man sitting on a cask of wine outside.  He is only spilling wine from a cup.  A vine bearing grape clusters has climbed a tree above him.  Next to the tree are two trained vines.  Bacchus is surrounded by various drinking vessels on the ground. In the mid-ground is a table of men sitting around a table drinking wine.  There are musicians providing entertainment and servants pouring wine.  A wine cooler sits next to the table below which is a label Chansons a boire or drinking songs.  Perhaps the men at the table are drinking and singing.

Sallengre, Albert-Henri de. "Bacchus auf seinem Thron" 1724. SLUB Dresden. [2]

Sallengre, Albert-Henri de. “Bacchus auf seinem Thron” 1724. SLUB Dresden. [2]

The chapter names are just as engaging as the title of the book.  Here are several:

Chapter IV – That old People ought to get Drunk sometimes.
Chapter IX – That the Primitive Christians got Drunk
Chapter XIX – Other Considerations in favour of Drunkenness
Chapter XXIV – An Answer to the objection, That Drunkenness makes one uncapable of performing the Duties of Civil Life
Chapter XXV – Burlesque, ridiculous, and out-of-the-way thoughts against Drunkenness.


[1] Sallengre, Albert-Henri de. “L’eloge de l’yvresse” 1714.  Hathi Trust. URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008976965
[2] Sallengre, Albert-Henri de. “Bacchus auf seinem Thron” 1724.  SLUB Dresden. URL: http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id414543203
[3] Sallengre, Albert-Henri de. “Ebrietatis Encomium: Or, The Praise of Drunkenness” 1910 fascimile of 1723 edition. URL: https://archive.org/details/ebrietatisencom00sallgoog

Categories: History of Wine Tags:

An Ancient Pair of Chateauneuf du Pape from 1964

Fortia1

Chateauneuf du Pape was a common post-war selection on restaurant wine lists and wine stores in America.  However, it fell out of favor in the 1970s due to significant price increases.  As late as 1980, Gary Gunther for The Washington Post cautioned that Southern Rhone wines needed to be considered against the “river of reliable, highly competitive wines from California.”  Sentiment soon turned.  In 1982, Robert Parker Jr. wrote that several of the finest estates had “become available for the first time at prices that are hard to ignore.”  He first traveled to Chateauneuf du Pape in the early 1970s and his love for the wines spawned renewed interest.  He wrote of recent vintages back to the “simply magnificent” 1978.  Until this summer, my experience with these wines never included vintages prior to 1978 because they are forgotten,  predating most interest.

Chateauneuf du Pape is an old wine producing region with a history that has changed quite dramatically within the last century.  The traditional wines are revered by all of my friends now but for others this was not the case in the past.   In Frank Schoonmaker’s and Tom Marvel’s post-Prohibition The Complete Wine Book (1935), the authors wrote that it was “until recently one of the least trusthworthy for sale in France”.  They did note that the passing of the Chateauneuf du Pape rules in 1923 made the wines “fairly reliable”.  They listed it as the third most important Rhone region after Cote Rotie and Hermitage.

The 1923 Chateauneuf du Pape laws were the results of the efforts of Baron Le Roy, proprietor of Chateau Fortia, and several other growers. As a partial effort to curb wine fraud, they developed rules for any bottle of wine that was labeled from Chateauneuf du Pape.  They delimited the boundaries for the appellation, the acceptable grape varieties, and minimum alcohol level amongst others.

In Frank Schoonmaker’s revised Encyclopedia of Wine (1965) he elevated Chateauneuf du Pape to the most important region of the Rhone.  He recommended the estate bottled wine as the best with Chateau Fortia as one of his handful of recommendations.  There were still just a handful of estates bottling wine in the 1970s.  In fact, in 1978 only 20% of the wine was bottled in the village with the rest sold in bulk.

John Arlott, a wine journalist for The Guardian, also lists Chateau Fortia as amongst the best in his even smaller list from 1974.  At the time, there were some 330 proprietors tendings vines with  a proportion owning only two to three hectares.  With many proprietors operating at a small scale a symbiotic relationship with negociants developed.

John Livingstone-Learmonth, Drink Rhone, expressed to me in email that for many domaines, negociants were a way for their wine to be known and to reach a broader market.  As a result, the domaines supplied their best product without any feedback from the negociants on vineyard work.

Paul Jaboulet Aine, founded in 1834, is one negociant that is still a major force today.  The Hermitage “La Chapelle” remains a benchmark for Northern Rhone wines.  Today we would not include the Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Cedres” as amongst the best of the region but it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

With less domaines bottling their own wine, the range of wine available for the negociants to blend was quite good.  I know this for a fact because I have tasted the 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape and 1964 Chateau Fortia, Tete de Cru, Chateauneuf du Pape.

CdP1

On a recent summer evening I cut the capsules then pulled the corks on two bottles of Chateau Fortia and Paul Jaboulet Aine.  The Chateau Fortia, originally exported to Northern Italy, made its way to Switzerland before coming over to America.  The Paul Jaboulet Aine is an ex-domaine bottle.  Both were imported by Mannie Berk of the The Rare Wine Company.

Paul Jaboulet Aine is a negociant with original vineyard holdings in Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage.  John Livingstone-Learmonth explained how Northern Rhone merchants felt they should have Southern Rhone wines in their portfolio.  These were marketed towards French restaurants and the export trade.  Thus the Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Cedres” is a brand name.  Paul Jaboulet Aine purchased wine and not grapes for our bottle of 1964.  Only vineyard owners were entitled to use a bottle bearing the name and crest of the region.  Thus the bottle of Les Cedres is plain but the Tete de Cru is embossed.

The previously drunk 1964 Domaine de Beaucastel was a mouth filling marvel of fruit and life that benefitted from air.  The 1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape also developed with air, revealing sweeter dark and textured flavors.  It did not reach the same heights but it was still excellent; a wine I would like to drink again.  It is rich in flavor, leaving impressions of substantive weight that are supported by acidity with a surprising kick in the end. The 1964 Chateau Fortia, Tete de Cru, Chateauneuf du Pape is more advanced, signaled by both the color and the nose.  The flavors are on the red fruit side and clearly more funky.  It is most pleasurable if drunk up in a timely manner.

The 1964 vintage is in many regards positively ancient for Chateauneuf du Pape.  It is also extremely rare in America.  There are no bottles listed for sale, ensuring it remains a largely forgotten vintage on our shores.  Thus to have tasted three bottles in the span of one month puts me in a rather unique and exciting position all thanks to my friend Mannie Berk.  These wines not only speak of a different style of winemaking in Chateauneuf du Pape they also represent a bygone period when negociants were the major forces capable of producing outstanding wine.  They are traditional wines that did not bend to the early-drinking vinification fad nor the press.

CdP3

 

1964 Chateau Fortia, Tete de Cru, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%.  The wine is slightly cloudy with an older color.  The nose smells of old wine with animale notes.  There is a sweet entry with tart red fruit, and that animale note.  It fades with air becoming more metallic.  **(*) Drink up.

CdP2

1964 Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cedres, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.6%.  This bottle developed well.  It is a rich, inky wine with old wood notes.  With air it opens up to reveal sweet blue and black fruit.  This textured, darker wine is supported by acidity which noticeably goes down the throat.  This is a great example of fully mature, substantive Chateauneuf du Pape.  **** Now but will last.

CdP4

A History of the California Barrel Tastings: Part 5 ‘WINE PRICES HAVE BEEN RIDICULOUS, OBSCENE, IMMORAL’ The Sources

This is the fifth in a series of posts surveying the history behind the MacArthur Beverages California Barrel Tasting and its predecessor Gerald Asher’s California Vintners Barrel Tasting.

2015RelicBarrelSample

There is a rich set of newspaper articles chronicling the American wine boom, the rise in French wine prices, and the barrel tastings themselves.  In this post I have put together the vast majority of the articles I relied on for my posts in this series.  I strongly recommend that you read a few.

  1. Balzer, Robert Lawrence. “Wine Connoisseur”. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jun 9, 1974; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. M23
  2. Balzer, Robert Lawrence. “Wine Connoisseur”. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 9, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. 40
  3. Balzer, Robert Lawrence. “Wine Connoisseur”. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); May 4, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. R26
  4. Basset, James. “California Industry’s Rose Future” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 13, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. G1
  5. Bespaloff, Alexis. “Top of the Barrel, Bottom of the Bottle”. New York Magazine. April 10, 1978.
  6. Blume, Mary. “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Cru” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jun 13, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. P42
  7. Brounstein, Albert. “DIAMOND CREEK VINEYARDS: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF TERROIR IN THE VINEYARD”. Interview conducted by Carole Hicke. The Wine Spectator California Wine Oral History Series. 1998.
  8. Bylin, James E. “Commodities: Price of Many California Wines May Rise 10% After the Freeze Due to Tight Supply”. Wall Street Journal (1923 – Current file); Sep 27, 1971; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal pg. 20
  9. Bylin, James E. “Commodities: Brandy Makers Face a Big Grape Squeeze As California …” Wall Street Journal (1923 – Current file); Feb 26, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal pg. 22
  10. Cannon, Carl. “Monterey Adds ‘Winery Row’: Grape Boom Ferments in Steinbeck Country” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); May 18, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E1
  11. Chroman, Nathan. “Crunch Comes to the Wine Boom” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jan 30, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. K8
  12. Chroman, Nathan. “SUPPLY CATCHES UP WITH DEMAND: THE ‘YEAR OF THE JUG’” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 13, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. J24
  13. Chroman, Nathan. “CALIFORNIA’S FINEST CELLARS: THE WINES OF JOE HEITZ: PREEMINENCE AT A PRICE” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Mar 13, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. J22
  14. Chroman, Nathan. “BOTTOM LINE OF A BOOM: WORLD OF WINE OFFERS SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 2, 1978; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. H30
  15. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Chateau Owners are Being Too Greedy” March 30, 1972. “The Chicago Tribune.
  16. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: Stock wine cellar with care” The Chicago Tribune.
  17. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: California taste moves East”. March 13, 1975. The Chicago Tribune.
  18. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: Ruily white Burgundy swill delight you, too”. April 5, 1973. The Chicago Tribune.
  19. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: Sky’s the limit on European wine prices”. May 24, 1973. The Chicago Tribune.
  20. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: California wine boom zooms”. July 1, 1974. The Chicago Tribune.
  21. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: France woos U.S. buyers”. December 26, 1974. The Chicago Tribune.
  22. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: Happy days arrive for wine devotees”. March 6, 1975. The Chicago Tribune.
  23. Church, Ruth Ellen. “Let’s learn about wines: Boom benefits wine drinkers”. July 3, 1975. The Chicago Tribune.
  24. Conaway, James. “Roll Back the Barrel” April 21, 1985. The Washington Post Magazine. Pg 57
  25. Conaway, James. “Speculating on California Cabs”. June 29, 1986. The Washington Post Magazine. Pg 23
  26. Conaway, James. “Bright Futures For California Cabernets” July 5, 1987. The Washington Post Magazine. Pg 39
  27. Ensrud, Barbara “Sunny Outlook for California Wine Futures” Wall Street Journal (1923 – Current file); Jun 2, 1987; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal pg. 28
  28. Gilberti, Ben. “Price Philosophy: Barrel Tastings: How California & Bordeaux Differ” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); May 11, 1988; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. E11
  29. Gilberti, Ben. “Fooling Mother Nature” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Apr 26, 1989; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. E1
  30. Goldberg, Howard G. “Wine Talk: Two wine-tasting galas effectively exclude the public” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 18, 1987; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C10
  31. Goldwyn, Craig. “Despite the hype, French wines are no bargain”. July 17, 1978. The Chicago Tribune.
  32. Hawkins, Jo. “The Word on Western Wines in Washington” Apr 5, 1981. The Washington Post. pg H1
  33. Heinzel, Ron S. “U.S. Wine Boom May Only Be Tip of the Cork, Survey Shows” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Sep 13, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. D14
  34. Kasabian, Cynthia. “Increasing Demand and Limited Supply Mean That Wine Drinkers Will Pay More” Wall Street Journal (1923 – Current file); Sep 1, 1978; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal pg. 18
  35. Lee, Susan. “California Drinking: The New Wines”. Wall Street Journal (1923 – Current file); Apr 1, 1983; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal pg. 13
  36. Parker Jr., Robert. “Roll Out the Barrel” April 6, 1983. The Washington Post. pg E1
  37. Prial, Frank J. “Anyone Who Can Squeeze a Grape is Competing” New York Times (1923-Current file); Sep 16, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 16
  38. Prial, Frank J. “Boom Is On in London, Too, But Prices Are Not as High” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 3, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 20
  39. Prial, Frank J. “At a Tasting for Fun and Profit, but Mostly Profit, They Appraised 60 Bottles” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 2, 1974; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 24
  40. Prial, Frank J. “Prices Are Plummeting in New York” New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 22, 1974; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 16
  41. Prial, Frank J. “With the Bordeaux Scandal Now Over, What Is the Impact Here Likely to Be?” New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 21, 1974; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 12
  42. Prial, Frank J. “’WINE PRICES HAVE BEEN RIDICULOUS, OBSCENE, IMMORAL’” New York Times (1923-Current file); Jan 25, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 42
  43. Prial, Frank J. “WINE TALK: A SKILLED VINTNER, A NEW LABEL AND A PLACE FOR SAMPLING” New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 2, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 52
  44. Prial, Frank J. “WINE TALK: IN BORDEAUX, DRASTIC CHANGES IN MARKETING” New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 16, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 31
  45. Prial, Frank J. “WINE TALK: CO-OWNER’S HOBBY ENHANCES CELLAR AT THE FOUR SEASONS” New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 5, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 60
  46. Prial, Frank J. “WINE TALK: AMERICAN VINTAGES RATE WITH THE FRENCH AT TWO TASTINGS” New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 24, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 53
  47. Prial, Frank J. “WINE TALK: FOREIGNERS RUN UNUSUAL PARIS SCHOOL” New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 10, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 69
  48. Prial, Frank J. “WINE TALK: At 1 A.M. the Tasting Was Still Going On” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 24, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 52
  49. Prial, Frank J. “CALIFORNIA LABELS OUTDO FRENCH IN BLIND TEST” New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 9, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 27
  50. Prial, Frank J. “Wine Talk” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 30, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 61
  51. Prial, Frank J. “CALIFORNIA REDS SCORE HIGH IN TASTING, BUT SOME CAVEATS MUST BE WEIGHTED” New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 16, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 39
  52. Prial, Frank J. “Wine Lovers Raise Their Glasses to California” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 24, 1978; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. A15
  53. Prial, Frank J. “Wine Talk: From California, 6,300 glasses of young wine” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 28, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C14
  54. Prial, Frank J. “A Wine Capital Comes of Age” New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 4, 1984; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 426
  55. Prial, Frank J. “California barrel-tasting dinner is leaving New York” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 27, 1985; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C15
  56. Prial, Frank J. “California barrel samples that have grown gracefully into their ripe middle age” New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 3, 1985; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C15
  57. Prial, Frank J. “Wine Talk: Shopping for bargains among cabernets from California” New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 9, 1988; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times
  58. C14
  59. Pursglove, David. “Soaring French Prices Boost the Trade in Good ‘Little’ Wine”. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Jun 22, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. D14
  60. Pursglove, David. “The Washington Wine-Buying Scene”. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Jun 29, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. D20
  61. Rice, William. “The Wine Pricing: Wine Picture: How to Choose The Wine Prices” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Feb 13, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. G1
  62. Rice, William. “1972 Bordeaux Offered At Big Price Reductions” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Mar 2, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. 121
  63. Rice, William. “A Growing Tale of Vintage Uncertainty”. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Apr 24, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. F3
  64. Rice, William. “A Liquid Buyers’ Market” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Feb 26, 1976;ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. D16
  65. Rice, William. “Go East, Young Vin: Go East, Young Vin: Hail The Conquering Californians” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Mar 24, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. D1
  66. Rice, William. “Those Winning American Wines” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Jun 13, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. K12
  67. Rice, William. “Is It Eastward Ho For The Elite California Wines”.  The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Aug 10, 1978; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg E1.
  68. Rice, William. “The California Grape Rush” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Jul 29, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. F1
  69. Rice, William. “California’s New York Showcase” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Mar 27, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. 159
  70. Rice, William. “Tasting the Wine Before Its Time” March 30, 1980. The Washington Post. pg H1.
  71. Richman, Phyllis C. “The Show Must Go On” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Mar 19, 1986; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. E1
  72. Robards, Terry. “Wine Talk: Twenty-nine California wines, 11 courses, and Burgess Meredith” Mar 25, 1981. The New York Times pg C16.
  73. Robards, Terry. “Tasting California’s New Wine” New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 31, 1982; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C9
  74. “Bordeaux wine fraud scandal trial opens”. October 28, 1974. The Chicago Tribune.
  75. “GROWERS DOUBLE ACREAGE OF GRAPES IN WINE BOOM” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Nov 10, 1971; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E11
  76. “How to stage a wine tasting” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 15, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. A16
  77. “Sales Decline Puts Squeeze on Wineries” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Sep 8, 1974; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. B6
  78. “Sour Grapes In Bordeaux” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Mar 27, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. C4
  79. “Wine Boom Peak Seen” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Sep 14, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. D13

In memorium: Ruth Bassin, age 89, of MacArthur Beverages

Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

On August 21, 2016, Ruth Bassin, age 89, owner of MacArthur Beverages passed away.  It was in 1957 that Ruth Bassin and her late husband Addy Bassin founded MacArthur Beverages.  Originally known as MacArthur Liquors, Ruth and Addy Bassin helped foster the transition of Washington, DC, to a wine loving city.  The store opened with the promise of “neighborly service”.  Over the past 25 years of my frequent visits, Mrs. B, as she was affectionately called, was always there.

At the passing of her husband Addy Bassin in 1986 and her son Bruce Bassin in 1998, Ruth Bassin founded two charity events.  Both the California Barrel Tasting and the Hearts Delight events continue to this day and will remain her legacy.  However, it is through my research into the rise of American wine journalism and the American wine boom of the 1970s, that I came across a forgotten legacy of Ruth Bassin.

Liquor sales dominated the American market in the 1960s.  With a rising population of well-traveled, baby boomers, interest began to turn to wine by 1970.   Washington, DC, was home to two of the wealthiest counties in America which created a customer base driving massive sales at MacArthur Beverages.  Ruth and Addy Bassin met and shaped this demand by purchasing on an international basis.  During purchasing trips in London, the couple would maintain a suite where they met with brokers every two hours over three day periods.  Both were involved in the selection of the wines as Ruth Bassin noted, “If I don’t like them, he won’t buy them.”

Without the Bassin’s contributions, the demand for such a diverse selection of wine would not exist today.

 

A History of the California Barrel Tastings: Part 4 “[F]ine American wines can now hold their own with fine wines from France” The wines served at the early tastings

This is the fourth in a series of posts surveying the history behind the MacArthur Beverages California Barrel Tasting and its predecessor Gerald Asher’s California Vintners Barrel Tasting.

Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

The title quote is taken from Frank J. Prial writing in The New York Times about two French versus Californian wine tastings held during November, 1975.  The following summer William Rice in The Washington Post described the Judgement of Paris as “The latest in the continuing, if rather pointless, tasteoffs pitting American versus French wines”.  He noted that the winning wines from Chateau Montelena and Stags Leap Wine Cellars were “expensive” and from “small vineyards, with limited productions”.  A month after the tasting the wines were no longer available in Washington, DC.

There was a great increase in the number of new wineries in California through the 1970s and 1980s.  Several hundred new wineries opened in fact.  However, the number of high-quality wineries was much smaller.  This is reflected in the wines chosen for the various French versus American wine tastings of 1975 and 1976 as well as Gerald Asher’s and Addy Bassins’ California Barrel Tastings.  Look through the lists below and you’ll see such names repeat as Chappellet, Clos du Val, Ridge, and Stags Leap Wine Cellars.  Interestingly enough, on the French side, 1970 Chateau Montrose and 1971 Chateau Leoville Las Cases appear at both the November 1975 comparative tasting and the Judgement of Paris.

 

The First Tasting, November 1975
1970 Chateau Margaux
1970 Chateau Haut-Brion
1971 Chateau Leoville Las Cases
1971 Chateau Greysac
1970 Chateau La Tour de By
1970 Chateau Leoville Poyferre
1971 Chateau Montrose
1971 Mouton Cadet

1970 Sterling Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon
1971 Chappellet Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon
1971 Louis Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon
1972 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon
1972 Almaden, Cabernet Sauvignon
1970 Beaulieu Vineyards, Georges de Latour Private Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon
NV Sebastiani Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon
1970 Marques de Caceras, Rioja

The Second Tasting, Manhatten East chapter of Les Amis du Vin, November 1975
1972 David Bruce, Chardonnay
1973 Chappellet, Chardonnay
1972 Freemark Abbey, Chardonnay
1972 Heitz Cellars, Chardonnay
1972 Mayacamas, Chardonnay
1972 Robert Mondavi, Chardonnay
1973 Spring Mountain, Chardonnay
1972 Louis Latour, Pinot Chardonnay
1973 Albert Pic, Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles
1973 Marquis de Laguiche, Chassagne-Montrachet

First Annual California Vintners Barrel Tasting Dinner, March 1976
1975 and 1974 Wente Brothers, Pinot Blanc
1975 and 1974 Chateau St Jean, Chardonnay
1975 and 1973 Freemark Abbey, Chardonnay
1975 and 1974 Parducci, Chenin Blanc
1975 and 1972 Mirassou Vineyard, Chenin Blanc
1975 and 1974 Joseph Phelps, Johannisberg Riesling
1975 and 1973 Beaulieu, Johannisberg Riesling
1975 and 1972 Simi, Gewurztraminer
1975 and 1974 Monterey Vineyards, Zinfandel
1975 and 1974 Ridge, Lytton Springs, Zinfandel
1975 and 1974 Callaway, Petite Sirah
1975 and 1973 Robert Mondavi, Pinot Noir
1975 and 1972 Sterling, Merlot
1975 and 1973 Pedroncelli, Cabernet Sauvignon
1975 and 1972 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon
1975 and 1970 Louis M. Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon
1975 and 1969 Chappellet, Cabernet Sauvignon

The Judgement of Paris, May 1976
1973 Chateau Montelena, Chardonnay
1973 Spring Mountain, Chardonnay
1974 Chalone Vineyards, Chardonnay
1972 Freemark Abbey, Chardonnay
1972 Veedercrest Vineyards, Chardonnay
1973 David Bruce, Chardnonay
1973 Roulot, Meursault Charmes
1973 Joseph Drouhin, Beaune Clos des Mouches
1973 Ramonet-Prudhon, Batard-Montrachet
1972 Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet “Les Pucelles”

1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon
1971 Ridge Mountain Range, Cabernet Sauvignon
1970 Heitz Cellar, Martha’s Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon,
1972 Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon
1971 Mayacamas, Cabernet Sauvignon
1969 Freemark Abbey, Cabernet Sauvignon
1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild
1970 Chateau Montrose
1970 Chateau Haut-Brion
1971 Chateau Leoville Las Cases

First Annual California Futures Barrel Tasting, June 1986
1984 Caymus, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Diamond Creek, Gravelly Meadow, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Diamond Creek, Red Rock Terrace, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Diamond Creek, Volcanic Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Dunn, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Girard, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Johnson-Turnbull, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Laurel Glen, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Long, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Joseph Phelps, Backus, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Joseph Phelps, Eisele, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Joseph Phelps, Insignia
1984 Pine Ridge, Rutherford, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Pine Ridge, Stag’s Leap, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Pine Ridge, Andrus Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Lyeth, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Ridge, Monte Bello, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Merlot
1984 Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Cask 23, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Steltzner, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 Johnson Turnbull, Cabernet Sauvignon
1984 William Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon

Next up: The sources

A History of the California Barrel Tastings: Part 3 “Roll Out the Barrel”

August 19, 2016 1 comment

This is the third in a series of posts surveying the history behind the MacArthur Beverages California Barrel Tasting and its predecessor Gerald Asher’s California Vintners Barrel Tasting.

Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

Rights owned by MacArthur Beverages. Used with permission.

The California Barrel Tasting

Two months before the Judgement of Paris, Gerald Asher held his first Californian Barrel Tasting at the Four Seasons in New York City. William Rice writing for The Washington Post noted that California needed new markets for the increased production of wine. In particular the tasting was taking aim at wine lovers in New York City and Washington, DC, who were entrenched in drinking European wine in the high-end of the market.

Gerald Asher based the tasting on the Paulee de Meursault and the Paulee de Paris held at Taillevent. His idea was to combine the elegance of these tastings with an American nature. It was initially difficult to get wineries to agree to pour unfinished wines to consumers at this event. Eventually he got Karl Wente and Robert Mondavi to attend then the event took off.

By several accounts the wines tasted at the early events were not the most inviting. At the first tasting in 1976, Frank J. Prial wrote there was little agreement on the best wines. The following year William Rice certainly conveyed the wines were better than before but “in the end, then the lasting impressions were of the winemakers rather than the wines themselves.” To be fair he did gush of the 1976 Joseph Phelps, Johannesberg Riesling compared it to the “nectar” of German trockenbeerenauselese. The barrel tasting soon hit its stride. Access to the 225 tickets for the third tasting in 1978 were “bitterly contested”. By the fourth year 2,000 people were trying to gain access to a tasting where all the wines were good. The success continued and Californian wines began to take hold. Soon it was not just 2,500 people jockeying to get a ticket, it was the wineries jockeying for a spot to pour their own wine.

The barrel tasting eventually reached the gastronomic equivalence to “an appearance at the White House”. However, the event was not to continue.  The 10th and final barrel tasting in New York City was held in 1985. During those 10 years Californian wine had become accepted on the east coast. One aspect remained the same and that was the difficulty in tasting young, tannic wines. Warren Winiarski, Stags Leap Wine Cellars, felt that the first time the wineries were taken seriously outside of California was when they were first invited to the barrel tasting in 1975.

The Tasting Moves to Washington, DC

When it was announced that Gerald Asher’s barrel tasting was moving to California, James Conaway did not miss a beat. He proposed in The Washington Post that the barrel tasting be moved to Washington, DC. He even wrote “Who knows, it might even become a tradition.” It was not such a far stretch. While the tastings were held in New York City a market for Californian wine was developing in Washington, DC. Event Robert Mondavi once came down from New York City to hold a simultaneous barrel tasting in Washington, DC.

Beginning in 1972, escalating French wine prices drove both importers and wholesalers to look for alternatives. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Californian wines to grab a larger share of the market but the timing was not right. Many Californian wines were highly regarded but with a unique taste that did not match traditional European wines. The attitude was that they should be judged on their own merit. Most east coast merchants were fine just leaving them on their own.

Washington, DC, was a city where wine tastes were set by resident diplomats, foreign travelers, and French restaurants. In order to satisfy a European wine palate, the major importers Kronheim and Beitzell were bringing in new imports of petit Bordeaux, Languedoc, Loire, and lesser Rhone. Others reached out to Hungary, Spain, and Yugoslavia. Only one wholesaler was looking to expand its Californian offerings. This was not in response to find lower-priced alternatives; rather it was just a new line of wines.

By 1974, just a handful of stores in both New York and Washington, DC, focused in on fine Californian wine. Merril Dunn of Morris Miller Liquors in Washington, DC, had increased his Californian selections from 10 wines in 1974 to nearly 100 by the end of 1976. In order to expand his selection, Merril Dunn was traveling to California every six months to tastes the wines ahead of release. Morris Miller was not the only store to actively stock Californian wines so too was Harry’s. In fact, their selection of wine in 1978 was suggested as “unequaled outside California itself.”

It was in 1978 that French wine prices were once again rising. Aggravated by remaining inventories of the unwanted 1972 Bordeaux vintage and the extremely small 1977 vintage, prices of the 1975 vintage were trading above the 1970. The timing for California was better this time. More than 100 new Californian wineries had opened up during the wine boom. Major wholesalers like the Forman Brothers and Milton S. Kronheim and the smaller Beitzell were making purchasing trips to California for the DC region. Carrying the smaller Californian wines was not without difficulty. The wholesalers complained of small inventories, inconsistent delivery of wine, and price. They were, however, “good name droppers on a list, like classified growths from France.”

Thus Californian wine had effectively made inroads into Washington, DC, when Addy Bassin of MacArthur Beverages held the First Annual California Futures Barrel Tasting on June 7, 1986. It was the first time Californian wine was ever offered as futures.

It was not easy to convince the wineries to participate in the tasting. Al Brounstein, of Diamond Creek Vineyards, recalls that he had to push “like mad” to get people involved. Whereas Bob Long and Richard Steltzner agree to join, Warren Winiarski did not. Many wineries were already selling out of all stocks of wine so they did not see a reason to sell any of it at a discount. Al Brounstein’s solution was to first raise prices before offering them at a futures discount.

California futures were seen as a direct competition with Bordeaux futures whose prices had once again skyrocketed since the 1982 vintage. With a sinking dollar the 1985 Bordeaux futures were reaching twice the offering price of the 1982 vintage. According to the Wall Street Journal there were a lot of people who typically purchased wine futures. Unwilling to purchase Bordeaux, there was capital waiting to be spent and it was on Addy Bassins’ offering of 1984 Californian futures. This allotment was sold out within several weeks.

The offering of 1985 California wine futures were not limited to just MacArthur Beverages. There were some dozen stores doing so as well including Zachy’s in New York City. With excitement at the same level of the release of 1982 Bordeaux, MacArthur Beverages had quickly sold more than 4,000 cases as futures in advance of the barrel tasting itself.  Robert Mondavi Winery reached a national audience through its own futures program with their distributors.

The pace continued the third year with the release of the 1986 Californian vintage. By this point Bordeaux first growths were priced at $740 to $960 per case. In comparison the more expensive Californian futures were a bargain with Shafer Hillside Select at $225 and Joseph Phelps Insignia at $229 per case.

The dollar began to slide in value during 1985.  By the end of 1986 the French Franc was 50% more expensive which added to the escalation of French wine prices.  The price of high-end Californian wines rose as well such that 1983 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Cask 23 cost $45 and 1985 Ridge, Monte Bello cost $50 as compared to 1985 Mouton-Rothschild at $55.  Due to the sheer volume of Bordeaux wine you could still find bargains such as 1982 Chateau Palmer at $17.  Not all Californian wines were expensive.  Due to the sheer number of new wineries there were many excellent wines at affordable prices.  James Conaway wrote at the end of 1987 in The Washington Post that California wines were enjoying “a huge, well deserved popularity” in filling the gap left by the “ionospheric price of bordeaux”.  There was no longer a need to convince east coast wine lovers to drink California wine.

Next up: The wines served at the early tastings

A History of the California Barrel Tastings: Part 2 “Anyone Who Can Squeeze a Grape Is Competing”

This is the second in a series of posts surveying the history behind the MacArthur Beverages California Barrel Tasting and its predecessor Gerald Asher’s California Vintners Barrel Tasting.

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The Wine Boom and Winegate

The wine boom began in 1969 when the annual increase in wine sales tripled to 10%. This followed the increase in an aging baby-boom population and a shift in consumer preference away from sweet wines. Sales continued to increase by at least 10% year after year. This put a strain on supply which, with the small 1972 Californian vintage, caused wine inventories to reduce.

Vineyard acreage in California increased dramatically to meet demand.  It also increased due to such reports as one from the Bank of America claiming the boom would last until 1978 and that wine consumption would double from 1973 to 1980. The 1970 Bank of America report stated that Americans would consume some 400 million gallons of wine by 1980.  The 1973 report stated it would be achieved six years earlier in 1974.

Beginning in 1969 the annual increase in acres of new vines planted nearly doubled as it went from 8,400 acres to 50,000 acres in 1973. The vast majority of the new vines were intended for wine production and not table grapes. It takes time for new vines to become productive so despite the new plantings grape prices were escalating as well. From 1968 to 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon grapes went from $305 to $702 per ton with Zinfandel outpacing it from $92 to $420 per ton. In 1971 alone, Californian wine prices increased by an abnormally high 10%.

Despite the massive increases in Californian vineyard planting it was estimated that the share of foreign wines sold in the American market would rise from 15% in 1973 to 20% by 1978. This meant that California’s share of the market was decreasing. The east coast markets were traditionally focused on Bordeaux and Burgundy but the boom in wine prices threatened this increase. The first sign of the increase in French wine prices occurred in 1972 when the smaller and not quite as good 1971 Bordeaux vintage opened at twice the prices of the 1970 vintage. A year later the poor 1972 vintage was released at three to four times the price of the 1970 vintage.

One reason for the price rise is due to the international currency market. However, these price increases far exceeded the effects of the revaluation of international currencies when the fixed Bretton Woods system was replaced by a free-floating system. This caused most European wines to increase in price some 10% to 20%.

By 1972, non-traditional countries were attempting to gain access to the booming American wine market. Threatened by the Argentines, Bulgarians, Greeks, Moroccans, and Yugoslavs the French “mounted a massive campaign” of “Country Wines of France”. These really were massive efforts. The Margnat Group was France’s largest producer of wine at 2 million bottles per day. It hoped to be the table wine of choice for one million Americans. The Bordeaux importer Cruse & Fils created a line of affordable, varietal labeled wines directly aimed at competing with Californian offerings.

The Cruse & Fils firm was soon in trouble. It attempted to take advantage of the tripling of prices by shipping some two million bottles of cheap wine labeled as high-end Bordeaux. Known as “Winegate” several men were found guilty in 1974 and fined $12 million dollars. Even Steven Spurrier, who received periodic coverage by Frank J. Prial in The New York Times, commented that he sent back 4,000 – 5,000 bottles of Bordeaux wine because it had been switched from what he ordered.

American buyers largely refrained from buying the 1971 and 1972 Bordeaux vintages. The 1973 vintage was better and larger than 1972 causing Bordeaux prices to fall in 1974. The shippers were now in trouble because their stocks of earlier vintages had run out so they purchased the 1972 vintage at any cost in anticipation of demand.

The wine boom started to fade in early 1975 as supply finally caught up with demand. The French wine industry responded to both inflated prices and Winegate by creating a Food and Wines of France organization. It promoted “French Wine Values” for appellation wines in the $2.50 to $5.00 bottle range. It was the second time in just three years that the French wine industry massively promoted their wines in America.

Nathan Chroman of The Los Angeles Times was pessimistic about the public relations method for creating wine drinkers. Instead of brand promotion he advocated encouraging people to taste wine, read books, and try good bottles. He felt the wine industry needed to go back to their “tasting rooms”.

By the Spring of 1975, the 1970 Bordeaux prices were lower than when they were first released. The shipping firm Austin Nichols had to dump the 1972 vintage at great loss. They had paid three times the amount compared to the 1970 vintage and accumulated several million dollars worth of inventory. There were management changes as a result.

Several writers recommended passing on the 1972s and only buying the 1971s at reduced price. For many merchants, they could not buy the 1973 and 1974 vintages until they freed up capital by selling through their inventory of 1972.

It was estimated that inventory in France reached 1 billion bottles mostly from Bordeaux. From this stagnant inventory of wine, another scandal soon surfaced. Merchants were re-labeling quality Bordeaux as common table wine to export to West Germany to qualify for a 10% export subsidy. The wines were then relabeled as quality Bordeaux before being shipped around the world.

Monterey

Back in California, south of San Francisco, the Monterey wine region received wide coverage in the press. It appears to have exemplified the wine boom. There were just over 2,000 acres of vines in 1970 but there was soon a staggering 37,000 acres in 1975. First Paul Masson Vineyards and Mirassou Vineyards planted vines. They were soon joined by Wente. Then the Monterey Vineyard Company moved in with a significant presence involving some 10,000 acres of vines. The nearly 40,000 acres of vines meant that Monterey was larger than Napa and Sonoma combined.

Gerald Asher left the Austin Nichols importing firm in 1974, before the management shake-up, to become the president of the distribution arm of the Monterey Vineyard Company. This new company had, according to Frank J. Prial “pots full of money, huge acreage” and “almost overpowering publicity”. Dr. Richard Peterson, who was Andre Tchelistcheff’s successor at Beaulieu Vineyard, was the president and winemaker. The first 1,000 acres of vines were planted in 1971 and yielded fruit for the first batch of wines in 1974.

Promotion of the new wine occurred right away throughout the country. Gerald Asher attended a Monterey Vineyard Festival at the Four Seasons in New York City during April 1975. For this festival guests paid to taste all four wines with a dinner made from ingredients flown in from the west coast. Gerald Asher debuted the wines in Chicago later that fall.

Monterey was described as “on the verge of an explosion that will loose an ocean of wine onto the national market”. Monterey Vineyard was soon to be part of that ocean. Gerald Asher was in charge of selling the Monterey Vineyard wine through the marketing arm Monterey Bay Company. In 1975 he had some 35,000 cases of wine to sell. That number was set to increase by 100,000 cases per year until it reached 500,000 in 1980. This was surely in mind for Gerald Asher’s Monterey Vineyard was one of the 17 wineries that showcased their wines at the Barrel Tasting held at the Four Seasons in 1976.

With this boom in wine, articles on how to stage a wine tasting followed. The Los Angeles Times reflected its California locality by discussing all Chardonnay and all Zinfandel tastings in 1972. It also suggested a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon versus Bordeaux tasting as well as Californian Chardonnay versus Chablis tasting. Robert L. Balzer explored the origins of Californian Zinfandel by tasting it with Sangiovese from Tuscany. Over in New York City, Frank J. Prial wrote in 1975 that wine tasting had become a popular social event. He even attended Gerald Asher’s 1970 Bordeaux tasting which was held in an apartment.

Later in 1975, Frank J. Prial wrote of two tastings in New York that “offered rather convincing evidence that fine American wines can now hold their own…with France.” The first tasting compared eight red wines from Bordeaux, eight from California, and one from Rioja. The wines were not ranked but the NV Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon was found particularly attractive by all five judges. This tasting was soon followed by one organized by Manhattan East chapter of Les Amis du Vin which pitted ten largely “rare and expensive” Chardonnay from California with Burgundy. The favorites from a different panel of five judges were the 1972 David Bruce, Chardonnay and 1972 Heitz Cellars, Chardonnay.

There was of course the most famous tasting of all, the bicentennial Judgement of Paris, held on May 24, 1976. Organized by Steven Spurrier it was first covered by George Faber in Time magazine. The coverage then spread to numerous American newspapers.  However, two months before Steven Spurrier sent ripples across the Atlantic Ocean, Gerald Asher held his California Barrel Tasting.  The slow acceptance of Californian wine amongst east-coast wine lovers was soon to speed up.

Up next: The California Barrel Tasting