History and Wine

An interesting article in the New York Times outlines the difficulty Prosecco producers in the Veneto  are having in their attempts to protect the name Prosecco as unique to that part of Italy. Because it is the name of both the grape and the wine, it’s more difficult to prevent the appearance of the word on a label of an Argentinean version, than it is to make the same argument for Champagne, which is the name of the region.  If Prosecco was referred to as Conegliano or Valdobbiadene it’d be a more equivalent situation. Not that Champagne producers are  having an easy time protecting their name either — the Office of Champagne USA have spent  quite a bit of money this season placing their ad unmasking “American Champagne” in the New York TImes online and on Times Square this holiday season.


This controversy was pretty much dead in the water as soon as it hit the internet, but what I find interesting about President Bush serving a $500 bottle of wine to his G20 guests, 1978-front-replaceis not how expensive the wine is, but how much better he could have done than the Schaefer 2003 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon. I understand that they have to stick to American wines at the White House (although that wasn’t the rule until the Johnson administration), which drastically limits the opportunities for truly good wine. But if I were the cellar master I think I might choose a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1970s, like the Chateau Montelena from 1978, being sold for a mere $150. 

I’m curious about the White House cellar in general. I found this article which interviews the White House “usher,” a man in charge of the wine cellar named Daniel Shanks, who was hired by the Clintons and has worked there ever since. His view seems to be that state dinners are too short and chaotic to serve an understated aged wine, and instead he prefers something with “youth and vigor” to pack a punch and make an impression. It sounds like the Clintons made a bad choice!

Interestingly, the Clintons were the ones to shift the White House cuisine from French food to American, and hired a man named Walter Schieb to be the chef overseeing this transition.

…but change has come to Amercia!

A popular weekly comic in Japan , called “Kami no Shizuki,” or “The Drops of God”,  features a young man learning about wine amid a mysterious setting. As they follow along, the middle class in Japan is collectively learning about wine as the protagonist does, who is seeking information about his recently deceased father’s love of wine. The brother and sister duo who write the series, fell in love with wine after drinking a nice Burgundy for the first time.  They feature inexpensive wines ($16-20) for drinking at the dinner table, which is a novel concept in Japan where wine has thus far been relegated to fancy restaurants and high price tags are meant to impress friends and colleagues.  Wine merchants use the comic as a sales tool, much in the same way we use scores by Robert Parker or Wine Spectator (although, unlike Wine Spectator, the writers don’t take payment or advertising for their reviews.). China, Korea, and Europe are catching the “Kami no Shizuki” fever as well, where the series has been translated into Mandarin, Korean, French and Italian. I’d like to look at the comics in greater detail, because I’m curious about a few things. If they are presenting wine as a complement to the dinner table, do they make an effort to pair the wine with the food? Or is the protagonist drinking Bordeaux with his ame ebi?


The French government has passed some surprising new legislation restricting wine advertising in a dramatic way. The “Loi Evin” , a law passed almost 20 years ago restricting the advertising of spirits and tobacco, has been extended to wine. The restrictions treat advertisements and journalism the same, so an article about the Champagne region would be required to post a health warning. Television and the internet are not allowed to feature wine at all. That means that a blog like this one, or any of those linked to the right, would be illegal! A website called findawine.com is asking for petition signatures to update the law to allow the internet (at the very least) the same restrictions as the written press. I’m happy that France is developing a public health policy that works towards eliminating cigarette smoking, but I’m very opposed to a trend toward treating wine as poison too. It is an integral and beautiful part of the dinner table, something France has understood for the last 2000 years. I never would have thought the French government would develop regulations against wine that are even more strict than our own here in the United States.


[The poster reads: “Tomorrow, in France, hundreds of journalistes and professionals will be silenced. What future is there for wine if we cannot talk?”]

I apologize for the absence of new posts lately. I’ll be posting something soon, but in the meantime I’ll refer you to David McDuff’s post about grower-Champagne, and specifically the house of Diebolt-Vallois. It’s an excellent introduction to the topic, and to the house itself.

My ears always perk up when I notice wine mentioned in music and movies. It is an interesting way of seeing what people were drinking at the time. For instance, in “Touchez pas au grisbi“, when Jean Gabin’s character orders champagne in a nightclub, I was fascinated to see that it was Lanson brand, if only because it isn’t such a popular brand anymore. Anyway, I was just listening to Judy Collin’s song, “Tom Thumb’s Blues” and this lyric in particular:

“I started off with Burgundy but soon hit the hard stuff.”

Burgundy gets mentioned frequently in music from the 60s and 70s, and I’m so curious whether they are taking about actual Burgundy — wine, either simple or fine, made from Pinot Noir in the Burgundy region of France — or “Burgundy” — jug wine from the least special vineyards in California, made from god knows which grapes, but most likely not Pinot Noir.  My suspicion is that Collin’s was drinking the latter, but who knows? Real Burgundy was cheaper back then, and she was rock star of sorts.

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