Archive

Posts Tagged ‘JaneNickerson’

“News of Food: About Wines” An overview of the wine columns of Jane Nickerson 1946 – 1957

February 10, 2016 2 comments

In this post I continue my look at the history of wine journalism in American newspapers by returning to Jane Nickerson of The New York Times.  The history of wine journalism parallels the history of wine cookery books.

Jane Nickerson was the first food editor at The New York Times from 1942 through 1957.  She wrote consistently about wine beginning in the spring of 1946.  This post-Prohibition, post-Depression, and post-War period saw the redevelopment of the American wine industry, resumption of European wine importation, the rise of wine cookery, and development of wine journalism.  Jane Nickerson wrote, not as a single expert in all things wine, rather as an editor shaping a constant stream of information and wine sourced from the authorities in what must have been the wine capital of the country.  In reviewing over 100 wine related articles written by Jane Nickerson for The New York Times it is clear that I cannot relate this body of work in one post.

New York City views. Gottscho-Schleisner. 1950. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

New York City views. Gottscho-Schleisner. 1950. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As such the vintages are diverse including 1876 Tokay ($8.75 per pint), 1888 Chateau Montrose (“amazingly alive, beautifully balanced, quite dazzling” according to Sam Aaron), the “top” 1947, and “above average” 1953.  As you would expect, she wrote often about Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux.  There are also diverse wines such as the Austrian wine from Vienna, Italian Bardolino, and 1953 Boordy Vineyard, Rosé from Maryland.

This was a time of much needed wine education.  Clearly aimed at apartment living “cliff dwellers” of New York City, where to store one’s wine was of repeated concern.   With a lack of storage and warm summer temperatures, it was felt almost any corner would suffice including under the kitchen sink[1]   but one should avoid locations near steam pipes.[2]  Described as a “cellarette” it was felt that if you stored the wines on their sides they would be suitable to drink for up to six months. Of course wine glasses, corkscrews, and serving temperature was also discussed.  The latter is not as mundane as you might think.  As discussed before, new vinification techniques produced earlier drinking wines.  Known as “wine of the year” these fresh, young wines were only bottled the previous fall.[3]  The red wines were found to taste best at cooler then cellar temperature.  With the increased availability of ice and spread of refrigeration in France, many switched to drinking wines such as Beaujolais at a cooler temperature in the 1950s.

Two issues centered on the price of wine might sound familiar to contemporary discussions.  In 1948 the relative expense of Californian wines compared to French wines was answered in the article “Why U.S. Wines Cost More Than French”?[4]  Two leading long-terms reasons were that French labor costs were 40% of Californian and that shipping from France to New York was 50% that of California to New York.  The post-War American market was also believed to be a dumping ground for stock held in American and European warehouses.  In the short-term, the devalued French Franc meant strong purchasing power for the American Dollar. The result was that “most California wines, including some very good ones, have simply priced themselves out of today’s market.”

Moving from the price of Californian wine is a small series of articles in 1951 concerned with the price of wine in general at restaurants.  Jane Nickerson threw down the gauntlet by quoting Tom Marvel, “American restaurants kill wine drinking”.[5]  In several pieces the wine price markup is described as 3 to 6 times the cost to the restaurant.  Tom Marvel felt that restaurants set the model for wine and food consumption at home.  American continued to favor sweet wines over table wines partially because table wine prices were so high at restaurants.  American could not participate in the European model of drinking table wine with a meal.  In a hold-over from Prohibition, restaurants viewed wine as an intoxicant thus profit driver not as a food like the French.  Not all restaurant prices were exorbitant.  The Bismarck Hotel in Chicago felt they were conservative, simply doubling the price which they felt covered storage, refrigeration, glasses, and everything else related to wine.[6]  A new wine list at the Café Continental in the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel spurred the article “’Impossible’ Found in Midtown Restaurant: Vintage Wines Priced Close to retail Scale”.[7]  Here one could drink 1947 Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc for $3 and 1937 Chateau Cos d’Estournel for $3.25 per bottle.

New Sources

Based in New York City, Jane Nickerson relied on combination of American publications, news from wine importers recently returned from Europe, and visiting winemakers both American and European.  Her exposure to wine came in the form of large-scale wine tastings and more commonly, small tastings with importers and city merchants.

Initial sources of post-war wine information sometimes came in the form of pamphlets.  The Wine Institute, founded in 1934, created the Wine Advisory Board in 1937 with the purpose of marketing Californian wines.  The Wine Advisory Board published such leaflets as “Little Wine Cellar All Your Own” in 1946[8] and “Fish Dishes With Wine” in 1948.[9]  The Italian Swiss Colony employed Gertrude S. Wilkinson, former food editor of The New York Journal-America, to write “Food Is More Fun With Wine.”[10]  National Distillers Products Corporation asked Mrs. Jeanne Owen, secretary of the Wine and Food Society of New York, to promote Chateau Lejon wine in “The Lejon Cook Book.”[11]  Frank Schoonmaker’s company published “News From The Wine Country” which Jane Nickerson described as “one-third promotional, two-thirds informational”.[12]  One informational bit is that red wine should be served at 60 Fahrenheit.  Not only was Information from these pamphlets relayed but wine cookery recipes were also included.

Jane Nickerson attended several tastings held by the Wine and Food Society of New York beginning in 1946.[13]  The first few tastings appear to be domestically focused, including the wines of the National Distillers Products Corporation such as Sweet Valley from Ohio and Chateau Lejon.[14] The Society’s October 1946, tasting was the first of imported wine since the end of the War.[15]

There were also tastings held by importers as well.  Bellows & Co., an import-only subsidiary of the National Distillers Products Corporation, was generous in pouring 1942 Villaine et Chambon, Romanee La Tache, Richebourg, and Grands Echezeaux.[16]  At their 1950 spring tasting, some “700 wine devotees” were invited to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.[17] That the guests “included amateurs and a few members of the trade” show how modest wine journalism was at the time.  Kobrand Corporation was holding tastings in 1950[18] with the Wine and Food Society focusing in on Californian wine that same year.[19]  Macy’s held a German wine tasting in 1953, a region that was “comparatively unfamiliar”.[20]  Due to two World Wars and Prohibition, the availability of German wines had only returned to the levels of nearly 40 years prior in 1914.  The 1954 Ambassador Liquors tasting was the “largest ever held in this country – 4,000 persons were invited”.[21]  Aimed at the general public, rather than the press, the wines offered were meant for daily drinking.  As if to confirm the point Jane Nickerson titled a section of her article “Small Tasting More Enjoyable”.  These large wine tastings never became a significant source of information for Jane Nickerson.  She noted that so many tastings were “huge cocktail parties where wine replaces cocktails, and where the guests come more to be social”.[22]

By the beginning of 1947 Jane Nickerson was regularly conversing with Sam Aaron of Sherry Wine and Spirits.  Sam Aaron was excited by wine and learned all he could from the importer Frank Schoonmaker.  It is perhaps Sam Aaron who introduced Jane Nickerson to Frank Schoonmaker for she was soon recommending the wines he imported.  By 1948 she was regularly conversing with Frank Schoonmaker and his associate Tom Marvel of the wine importing company FS Importing.  Frank Schoonmaker distributed wines too such as those of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and the Kesselstatt wines of the Mosel.[23]  The Kesselstatt wines were imported by Bellows & Co.[24]

James Beard worked at Sherry Wine and Spirits with Sam Aaron.  Around November 1950, Jane Nickerson began discussing wine with James Beard who often related of his most recent trip to Europe.    The wines and knowledge of Michel Dreyfus, importer, first appear in 1950.[25]  Alexis Lichine first appears in 1951, as importer and author, just after his “Wines of France” books was published.[26]  This book remained a work of authority which Jane Nickerson often cited.  Alexis Lichine had previously worked with Frank Schoonmaker.  R.C. Kopf, president of Kobrand Coporation was interviewed once.[27]  She met with Alfred Fromm and Franz W. Sichel who distributed Christian Brothers and Paul Masson wine. Robert Haas, proprietor of Lehmann’s wine shop on Park Avenue, was also consulted.  Lehmann’s wine shop eventually merged with Sherry to form Sherry-Lehmann’s.  Robert Hass left New York to form Tablas Creek Winery in California.

Jane Nickerson interviewed people for articles as well.   These interviews typically involved wine lovers in the Wine and Food Society and Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, as well as domestic and foreign proprietors brought to the city through the distributors and importers such at Bellows & Co, FS Importing, Dreyfus, and Sichel.  She even interviewed publisher Alfred A. Knopf who was a director of the Wine and Food Society of New York.[28]

She interviewed Henri Bonnet, French Ambassador and “grand office of the Wine Cup” as the Noble Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin was once translated.  Jane Nickersons’ interviews typically feature a description of the interviewee as well as discussions about food.  Raymond Baudouin, general secretary of the French Wine Academy, was interviewed in the tasting room of Frank Schoonmaker.  Baudouin, a “loosely built man”, found it “impossible even to estimate the number of wines he had tasted”.  He did express a preference for young wines which were “fresh, more perfumed”.[29]  John St. Clair Harvey, chairman of John Harvey & Sons of Bristol, described as a “huge bespectacled man”, was interviewed while drinking a “bracer” of Champagne and orange juice.[30]  Harvey & Sons were known for their sherries and ports.  After his tour of the country he felt there were only a dozen retailers that “really cared for wine”.  Storage was primitive and while wine prices were too high in restaurants, New Orleans lived up to its “gastronomical reputation”.

Diversity of Wines

Jane Nickerson’s early wine writing was simple in nature.  To accompany the almost daily selections of “fish ‘n’ poultry” she recommended enlivening the meal with white wine.[31]  The suggested white wine was Sweet Valley which she described as, “dry and clean and uncorrupted by anything suggesting an even faintly saccharine flavor.”

A great selection of French wines began to appear towards the end of 1946.  During October 1946 the Wine and Food Society held its first imported wine tasting since the war.[32]  The stars of this tasting were the 1937 and 1938 Domaine Grivelet, Chambolle-Musigny and the 1937 Domaine Grivelet, Musigny-Comte George de Vogue.  French wines continued to dominate in the columns typically Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne.  There were other French wines such as the 1947 Clos le Mont, Vouvray with a “flowery boquet” and Hermitage from the Rhone.

American wines appear frequently, usually due to the annual California State Fair.  Early examples include such wines as Wente’s Sauvignon Blanc “pronounced aroma and flavor, true to the variety in all respects”, “heterogeneous, rather nondescript” California burgundy, and “luscious” Cresta Blanca Triple Cream sherry.

Mention of sparkling wine was not solely limited to French Champagne.  There was sparkling Saumur, Asti Spumante, American bubbles from Charles Fournier in New York, Seppelt from Australia, and even President Canadian from Canada.  Over time Alsatian Gewurztraminer, quality Chianti Classico not in a straw covered bottle, Spanish sherry, Californian Zinfandel, sweet wine from Hungary, and high-altitude wine from the Italian Alps made their appearances.

Wine Descriptions

There is a wealth of wine descriptions throughout Jane Nickeron’s articles.  The vast majority of these descriptions are quoted being from Frank Schoonmaker, Sam Aaron, and others.  I suspect this is respect for these sources being considered experts in the subject matter of wine rather than deference because they were male.  Jane Nickerson was very careful to attribute sources for all of her information and frequently quotes all sorts of information, not just tasting notes.  She does provide a handful of wine descriptions of her own from which I have gathered a selection.

Bellows’ Inglenook Napa Valley Navalle Rose: “the color of a deep pink carnation”.[33]

Blondel-Marshal, Blanc-de-Blanc, Champagne: “a particularly light, dry taste, with almost no body or bouquet”.[34]

1948 Chateau du Nozet, Pouilly Fume: “Over and above its pale-gold transparency and its delicate mellow taste is perhaps its bouquet – pronounced, pleasant”.[35]

1947 Wormser Liebfrauenstift Kirchenstuck Riesling: “strange, but delightful quality as ‘earthy.’ It is dry, delicate, with a pleasant, though far from decided, bouquet.”

1947 Valmur, Chablis: “was greenish-gold, flinty, clean dry, light”

1947 Louis Jadot, Corton Charlemagne: “was dry and well rounded; it filled nostrils and mouth with fragra[n]ce and flavor.” [36]

Paul Masson, Triple Red sparkling red champagne: “It was a bit sweet and fruity” with “pearls – more vulgarly, the bubbles – were very small and lasted a long time; in other words, the champagne had life.”[37]

German Riesling in general: “They hit one’s nose, first of all, for dry or sweet, the best share a distinguishing quality – a  lovely bouquet, almost the fragrance of flowers, that charms before one even sips.”[38]

Randersackerer Hohbug Silvaner Beeren-Auslese, 1950: “was sweet and exceedingly smooth for all its characteristic earthiness.”[39]

Yugoslav wines: “Yugoslav wines is Chipon, dry, full of character, almost harsh, a wine that could be poured as an aperitif”.[40]

Beaujolais in general: “purplish-red, with the fruity aroma and taste of crushed grapes”.[41]

Columns

The wine articles appear as two types of columns, typically a news column under the headline of “News of Food” and occasionally a longer feature column.  The “News of Food” columns that contain pieces about wine often include other news on restaurants, food, and even recipes.  Some “News of Food” columns were dedicated to a single wine feature such as the American tour of Princess Gabrielle de Lichtenstein (Kesselstatt) and Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Chateau Mouton-Rothschild) in 1950.[42]  The longer feature pieces bore such titles as “With Champagne and Burgundy”, “Native and Foreign Wines”, “Piquant Rhines and Moselles”, and in time for Christmas 1952 “A Wine List For Festive Occasions”.  These pieces featured a script title, a graphic drawing, and photographic images.

During 1951 and 1952 a third type of column appeared that was a variation of the news column.  There were four columns dedicated solely to wine titled “News of Food: Wines” (one by June Owen) and one column “News of Food: About Wines”.   This third type of column appeared in addition to pieces on wine in “News of Food” and the long form.  In 1955, single subject “Food News:” appeared with such titles for three column pieces as “Food News: Discourse on Wines” and for two columns “Food: Loire Wines”.

Selected Article Titles

“With Champagne and Burgundy”, May 30, 1948.
“Wines of California”, October 3, 1948.
“News for Wine-Lovers”, February 20, 1949.
“Native and Foreign Wines”, November 14, 1949.
“Notes on California Wine Awards”, September 25, 1949.
“Summer’s Sparkling Wines”, May 21, 1950.
“Wines of the Season”, September 24, 1950.
“From the Vineyards of France”, December 16, 1951.
“Piquant Rhines and Moselles”, August 31, 1952.
“A Wine List For Festive Occasions”, December 7, 1952.
“Exploring the Fine Clarets”, February 8, 1953.
“The Pink Wines For Warm Weather”, April 19, 1953.
“Primer on Italian Wines”, July 5, 1953.
“Weather for White Bordeaux”, June 20, 1954.
“Q. and A. on Wines”, April 17, 1955.
“Wines to Make Friends With”, October 9, 1955.
“Wine List For Fish”, March 24, 1957.
“Wine Cellar on a Budget”, October 6, 1957.

The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times describe Ruth Ellen Church, a food and wine journalist who published in the Chicago Tribune, at “the first American to write a regular wine column”.  Jane Nickerson did not have a regular wine column in The New  York Times. She did, however, write consistently about wine from 1946 through 1957 largely under the frequent column “News of Food” and at least annually in longer, illustrated pieces.  That there was no regular wine-titled column, that most wine writing appeared under a food column, could be due to her earliest observation that wine was “served so often as a part of a meal”.  There were signs that this view was changing in the 1950s when several “News of Food” columns focused solely on wine and column titles changed to include the term wine.  It was just several years later in 1962 that Ruth Ellen Church began her regular wine column in the Chicago Tribune.


[1] News for Wine-Lovers By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Feb 20, 1949; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. SM36
[2] Food: Storage of Wine By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 3, 1956; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 21
[3] News of Food: Young Wine-of-the-Year Coming to Table As Long, Large Meal of Yesteryear Exits. By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Sep 8, 1953; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 28
[4] News of Food: Five Experts Give Their Explanations Why U.S. Wines Cost More Than French By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 11, 1948; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010). pg. 18
[5] News of Food: Restaurants Kill Wine Drinking in America, Says a … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Jul 9, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 35
[6] News of Food: First Air Shipment of Scotch Salmon –Alsatian Wines … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 4, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 8
[7] News of Food: ‘Impossible’ Found in Midtown Restaurant: Vintage Wines … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 17, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 26
[8] News of Food: American Vintners Plan for Resumption Of Pre-War Rise … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 23, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 9
[9] News of Food: 11 Recipes on ‘Fish Dishes With Wine’ Are Offered to Readers of This Column By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 6, 1948; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 10
[10] News of Food: Wines Can Transform Tin-Can Dinner Into Fare High-Capped Chefs Produce By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 24, 1948; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 26
[11] 25-Cent Book Written by Food Fancier Gives 77 Ways of Cooking With Wine By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 25, 1947; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 29
[12] News of Food: Distinguished Vintner From California Off to Tour the Wine Country in Europe By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Jul 18, 1949; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 20
[13] News of Food: Delectable Desserts, Packaged to Last, Will Make This … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); May 7, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 18
[14] News of Food: Recipe for Muffins Made With Potatoes Is Given by … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); May 23, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 28
[15] News of Food: Puddings More Famous Than Her Books, Maura Laverty, …By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Oct 28, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 18
[16] Native and Foreign Wines By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 14, 1948; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. SM46
[17] News of Food: Chilled White Wines Presage Warm Days; Blueberries and …By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); May 3, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 34
[18] News of Food: Europe’s White Wines of 1947 Vintage Are Praised Here …By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 26, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 10
[19] Wines of the Season BY JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Sep 24, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. SM26
[20] News of Food: Wine-Tasting Staged, Introducing German White Varieties. By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 5, 1953; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 39
[21] News of Food: Wine Tasting Here One of Largest Ever Held — 60 Imports Offered By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); May 27, 1954; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 31
[22] News of Food: Dishes From Fine Restaurants and Shops Steal Show at Tasting of French Wines. By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 11, 1953; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010). pg. 20
[23] News of Food: WINE EXPERTS AT START OF TOUR By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 19, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 33
[24] News of Food: Chilled White Wines Presage Warm Days; Blueberries and … By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); May 3, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 34
[25] News of Food: Favorite French Wine Is New Arrival Here; Benedictine … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 14, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 17
[26] News of Food: Red Burgundies of 1947 Vintage Here From the Domaine de … By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 26, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 26
[27] News of Food: Price of French Champagne Due to Rise, But Not Before … By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 5, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 28
[28] News of Food: Bookman, Off for Happy Holiday in France, Says U.S., …By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 1, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 20
[29] News of Food: French Wine Expert Favors Young Vintages, Calls 1947 Top Year of Century for Tasting. By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); May 29, 1953;ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 14
[30] News of Food: British Wine Seller Says U. S. Retailers Seldom Go Beyond Price to the Quality. By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 15, 1953; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 21
[31] News of Food: Delectable Desserts, Packaged to Last, Will Make This …By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); May 7, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 18
[32] News of Food: Puddings More Famous Than Her Books, Maura Laverty, …By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Oct 28, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 18
[33] News of Food: Recipe for Muffins Made With Potatoes Is Given by …By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); May 23, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 28
[34] News of Food: Blanche Thebom of Metropolitan–Opera, Her Own Cook, … By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 2, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 34
[35] News of Food: Favorite French Wine Is New Arrival Here; Benedictine …By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 14, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 17
[36] News of Food: Europe’s White Wines of 1947 Vintage Are Praised Here … By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 26, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 10
[37] News of Food: Red Champagne Produced in California, Called First of … By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 7, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 42
[38] Piquant Rhines and Moselles By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 31, 1952; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. SM22
[39] News of Food: Wine-Tasting Staged, Introducing German White Varieties By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 5, 1953; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 39
[40] Wines to Make Friends With By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Oct 9, 1955; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. SM50
[41] Food: Cookbook Reissued: ‘Stock Reference’ Has Basic Dishes –Authors Discuss Wines of Interest. By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Jan 29, 1957; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 25
[42] News of Food: WINE EXPERTS AT START OF TOUR By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Apr 19, 1950; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 33

“[W]arm weather is on us, and what better refreshment than a cold sparkling wine”: The forgotten wine columns of Jane Nickerson from the 1940s and 1950s

I spent some of my free time this winter reading recent newspaper articles about wine.  One particular article focused on the wines of Domaine de la Romanee Conti stating that “bottles are so rare from the smaller vineyards that drinking the wine is always a great event.”[1]  The domain in general produced “the greatest of all the red Burgundies”.  This was much in part due to the domaine being the first to estate bottle the wine a practice that was “revolutionizing the wine industry of Burgundy.”  I should add that I consider anything published in the 20th century as recent.  This particular article was published by The New York Times in 1951 and the vintage of focus was 1947.  This was an “outstanding” vintage but the wines were not yet ready to drink.  Sam Aaron of Sherry Wine and Spirits was quoted, “Assuming their potential of 100, one might say they have achieved at this point seventy-five”.  Sadly I could not find other instances of this scale but it was briefly thrilling to think that the 100-point scale for wine was used in New York during the 1950s!

Empire State Building at night. c.1937. [0]

Empire State Building at night. c.1937. [0]

Far more important than the contents of the article is that it was written by Jane Nickerson.  She was the first food editor at The New York Times from 1942 through 1957.  Jane Nickerson wrote frequently and extensively about food in all forms but she also wrote about wine.  Sometimes her column was a mixture of short news on wine, food, and restaurants but other times the column was dedicated exclusively to wine.  For this post I surveyed over 100 wine related articles she published between 1946 and 1957.

I have only remotely looked at wine journalism in the 20th century let alone culinary journalism.  A quick investigation into Jane Nickerson reveals that she is a highly regarded food editor; if somewhat overshadowed by Craig Claiborne.  Strange enough there seems to be more attention to her writing on food than wine.  In reviewing her wine writing it is clear to me that she developed a deep interest in wine.   Yet she seems to be missing from the history of wine journalism.  In this post I do not try to place Jane Nickerson’s writing into a larger context.  For that I recommend you read Kimberly Voss’ book “The Food Section” as well as check out her website Women’s Page History.

Robert Lawrence Balzer related that he begin writing the column “Concerning Wines & Foods” for the Beverly Hills Citizen in 1937.[2]  This was “the first regular wine column west of New York City.”  Perhaps he was alluding to Jane Nickerson in mentioning New York City.  Robert Lawrence Balzer eventually wrote about wine for the Los Angeles Times from 1964 through 1995.[3]  Thomas Pinney wrote of Robert Mayock’s efforts in the early 1940s and that Hank Rubin, Bob Thompson, and Jefferson Morgan were amongst the earliest postwar wine writers.  These authors were all in California.  Frank Prial began his wine column for The New York Times in 1972 and is the first east coast author to be mentioned by Thomas Pinney.

Jane Nickerson’s wine writing is so different than that of today.  She began to write about wine when the wine market in America was redefining itself.  Her articles track the return of the American armed forces, effects of rationing, national efforts at promoting wine, and the increasingly diverse selection of imported wine.  The stage for post war wine journalism is clearly set by the title of one Nickerson article, “War Brides, Beware! The GI wants a wife who can cook something tastier than dehydrated eggs”.[4]  Before World War II, Americans only drank an average of half a gallon of wine per year as compared to the French at 40 gallons per year.[5]  Consumption had steadily increased with the repeal of Prohibition but the wartime rationing of grapes for raisins and tankers for transportation stymied the increase.  By the spring of 1946 the Wine Advisory Board was planning for an increase in wine consumption because “many men who were in Europe learned to drink wine, and undoubtedly will continue to do so.”

Simultaneous to a changing domestic wine selection, the importation of European wine had to be redeveloped.  Hampered through the two World Wars many German wines had largely been absent for decades in America.  Within France there was wine rationing and transportation issues that had to be resolved before long-favored wines could be enjoyed again.  Frank Schoonmaker, the wine importer turned spy and writer, chronicled the postwar wine scene in France in the pages of Gourmet magazine.  During the German occupation and even in the years afterwards, transportation was deeply impacted.[6]  Both people and goods traveled slowly by gasogene, a car or bus powered by boiler that burned charcoal or wood.  Though wine rationing was in place, there were areas were the wine could not be transported from.  As a result, the one bottle per week ration could entitle you to “as much vin ordinaire as you can carry away.”

It was not until the Spring of 1946 that Frank Schoonmaker anticipated the return of “magisterial clarets…gay, crackling Vouvray…venerable Hermitage…pale Chablis”.[7]  He wrote that there was “probably about as much fine wine in France as there ever has been”.  The French had done an extraordinary job of hiding these precious bottles by “bilking, cheating, duping, and deceiving the Germans on every possible occasion and in every possible way.”  He foresaw that these better bottles would be released in small parcels at a time and at strong prices.  There was to be no cheap French wine in America for some time.  He felt, then, that Californian wine would have no competition.  It was in the fall of 1947 that Frank Schoonmaker felt that “at last, a potable American vin ordinaire is not altogether a mirage”.[8]  He did admit he felt “it will probably be more difficult than it sounds” to find satisfactory wine.

Jane Nickerson helped people select and find good wine.  She began to write about wine for The New York Times when there was a growing thirst for both domestic and imported wine.  There was a need to educate the public not only on how to store and serve wine but also on narrowing down the best selections from new Californian wineries and those of returning European estates.  To educate herself, Jane Nickerson attended tastings such as those held by the Wine and Food Society of New York.  However, she primarily interacted with the leading wine experts in the city.  This group included the legendary wine importers, writers, and retailers Frank Schoonmaker, Alexis Lichine,  James Beard, Sam Aaron, and Robert Haas.  There were but few post-Prohibition wine books published in America so the importance of Jane Nickerson’s columns should not be neglected.  In this and future posts I hope to shed light on the forgotten early history of American wine journalism.


[0] Empire State Building at night. c. 1910. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003677456/
[1] News of Food: Red Burgundies of 1947 Vintage Here From the Domaine de …By JANE NICKERSON New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 26, 1951; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 26
[2] Volumes of Taste : A Collection of Old and New Books to Grace Any Wine Lover’s Library. By Robert Lawrence Balzer; July 01, 1990. Los Angeles Times. URL: http://articles.latimes.com/1990-07-01/magazine/tm-592_1_wine-library
[3] Robert Lawrence Balzer dies at 99: L.A. Times wine writer. Elaine Woo. December 09, 2011. Los Angeles Times. URL: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/09/local/la-me-adv-robert-balzer-20111209
[4] War Brides, Beware!: The GI wants a wife who can cook something tastier than dehydrated eggs. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 17, 1945; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. SM11
[5] News of Food: American Vintners Plan for Resumption Of Pre-War Rise … By JANE NICKERSON. New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 23, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 9
[6] Schoonmaker, Frank. “France A.D. 1945”. January 1946. Gourmet Magazine.
[7] Schoonmaker, Frank. “New Wines of France”. May 1946. Gourmet Magazine.
[8] Schoonmaker, Frank. “Vin Ordinaire in America”. October 1947. Gourmet Magazine.