We have evolved a fairly air-tight and very irrational view, in this country that is firmly in the fat middle of its wine adolescence, that red wine is for “serious wine connoisseurs” and white wines are mostly “just for fun” or “summer coolers”.
And we did this to ourselves.
The Europeans, who have had wine as a part of their lives and cultures since Jesus was in middle school, don’t generally have this schizo ‘tude toward wine colors. They have traditionally managed to take reds, whites, sparklings, and pinks with a sort of casual equanimity, judging wines on their merits, rather than any sort of snotty assumptions. The key word in that sentence is “casual”. It’s all a part of the Euro-Cool that continental sophisticates have affected for centuries that says, “Yes, I love wine but I’m far too busy with Important Things to get all verklempt about it.” They say this and then run out and spend 300 euros for a bottle of Bordeaux because, y’know, One Does.
Long and short of it is that the Euro crowd will see a bottle of White Burgundy on their dinner host’s sideboard or a bottle of Loire Sauv Blanc or a Picpoule from the Pays Nantais and not think “Cheap bastard.” They either drink it or they don’t.
Here, where we tend to turn all human interaction into a tractor pull and assign a pecking order, that host with a California Sauv Blanc and a kicky little Chenin Blanc on the sideboard is gonna get Talked About.
America IS, very much, still in our relative wine infancy, whether anybody wants to think that or nor. And we get moved as a wine culture by Events like the release of the movie, “Sideways”, which created and STILL, irrationally, drives our national Pinot Noir boom. (Virginia Madsen, I have to confess, may be the only person I can think of who could actually get me to drink Pinot, so this makes some sort of weird, mutant sense.) The 1976 Judgement of Paris – which spawned the wonderful, if historically hinky, movie “Bottle Shock” – is an event organized by British, Paris-based wine merchant Steven Spurrier, in which some California wineries were invited to submit their Chardonnays for blind tasting against some of the legendary Burgundies and actually WON the damned thing, IN Paris, WITH French judges. Thus began the MASSIVE Chard Boom that continues to this day.
But the event that put red wines firmly into their ascendancy (today, after almost a half-century of Chardonnay as America’s best-selling wine, Cabernet Sauvignon is a solid #1) was a rather innocuous (or so the producers thought) segment of CBS’ 60 Minutes, in which Morley Safer laid out what has come to be called “The French Paradox”, which noted that French people eat a TON (and a half) more cheese and eggs and other fats than Americans but remained generally much healthier and far less grossly overweight.
From PBS.com: “…
“So the 1980s were a quiet period for the California wine industry.
That changed in 1991 when Morley Safer went on 60 Minutes and talked about the “French paradox.” He told America that the leading causes of death in the U.S. for white males were heart attacks and strokes. Safer pointed out that the French ate as much fat as Americans, but that they had a lower rate of cardiovascular problems. And he explained that epidemiologists thought it might be due to the fact that the French drank much more red wine than Americans did.”
WELL…Healthy? Gets ya drunk? “Hell, gimme summa that there cab-uh-nay, Jim Bob, and bring back a case ‘o that Merlot stuff for later!“
Horrified tee-totalers, who for generations had sold their philosophy on the premise that alcohol is poison and ANY amount is doing bodily damage, had to drop back and punt. And doctors grudgingly admitted that, yes, there IS evidence that MODERATE wine consumption does have some, uh, provable health benefits.
BUT…and this is a HUGE “But”, akin to a mud-wrestling match between Haystacks Calhoun and Nikki Minaj…the 60 Minutes report included the fact that this health benefit traced to French wine consumption was mostly from the fact that they consumed FAR more RED wine than Americans ever had. It may be hard to remember but prior to that Safer segment, Americans drank about 5-1 more Chardonnay than the top six red grapes combined. That episode aired on November 17, 1991.
This was a neck-breaking 180-degree reversal from the 1980s when wine was regarded as almost sinister, a virtual plot to erode the American character, tossed onto the societal Shit List with tobacco and marijuana.
On the heels of the Morley Safer revelation, America’s hunky new President weighed in. Bill Clinton, asked about red wine on a Q&A segment on MTV in ’93, opined about red wine, “...if you use it in moderation, there’s no evidence that it causes harm. And there’s some evidence that wine, for example, is good for your heart if you use it in moderation.” Clinton, no enemy of redundancy in his sentence structures, sold the red wine boom in one interview and sales of red wine sky-rocketed by more than 125% from 1991 to 2005.
As with “Sideways” and The Judgment of Paris, which finally put California wines on the world stage, The French Paradox is still very much with us and the health benefits of red wine – coupled with a manic national urge to get elegantly hammered and rationalize it out as health-conscious excess rather just, y’know, skeevy excess – created a national fervor for red wine which has never abated or ever really slowed down.
All fine and dandy…BUT, given our other American mania for contests and ‘Best Of…’- that ‘every human interaction as tractor pull’ thing – what happened was that the sales of reds and the seriousness which became attached to them didn’t just dovetail nicely with our long-standing fixation on white wines, as most experts of the time expected. Sales of reds and the fact that, in terms of their relative health benefits, reds ARE actually healthier than whites has worked to actually suppress sales of whites that were not Chardonnay. White wine has suffered by the rise of reds and most whites – other than the obvious like Chard, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauv Blanc, and Riesling – saw a virtual Red Ceiling slapped atop their market shares, which resulted in some of the formerly sellable whites like Chenin Blanc, Soave, Columbard, Viognier, and Italian whites like Verdicchio, Vernaccia, and Vermentino, and the Spanish stalwart, Verdejo, almost disappearing from shop shelves.
There is a priceless video that is surprisingly hard to find, probably because it embarrassed some prominent pals of Monty Python alum, John Cleese, but Cleese, a devoted and savvy wine lover, did a documentary called “Wine For The Confused”, the last scene of which was a tasting at his Santa Barbara home, during which guests were given stone goblets (as I remember. Some opaque vessel, at least), so that they couldn’t see the color of the wine. The challenge was simple: tell Cleese which were red and which were white. Anybody can do it, right? That’s what a couple of his friends thought and yet MOST of them were unable to accurately say which was which. Cleese was the only one not shocked.
I scoured the ‘net for that video and failed because, I strongly suspect, of those neighbors and tasters and Cleese’s desire not to become a wine pariah. It has certainly been edited out of the versions of “Wine For The Confused”, that appear on YouTube. Here’s a clip…
Here’s the wikpedia entry about that Cleese tasting: “Wine for the Confused is a documentary hosted by John Cleese. It is a light-hearted introduction to wine for novices. Cleese guides viewers through the basics of wine types and grape varieties, wine making, wine tasting and terminology, buying and storing wines, through direct narrative and interviews with wine makers and wine sellers. The film duration is 92 minutes and includes visits to wineries in California. The film concludes with a large group conducting a blind wine tasting. One of the tasting results was the fact that most tasters could not distinguish between red wine and white wine. Another was that most tasters rated an inexpensive wine equal in taste to an expensive prestige wine, and both of these out scored the rest of the mid-priced and high-priced wines in the blind test.”
I don’t have to imagine how mortified those guests were. I was stupid enough to see that on PBS, aeons ago, (the movie was shot in 2004) and organized my own similar tasting, with a friend handling the bagging of bottles and the pouring into steel goblets, so that I could play along. I FAILED miserably – and so did everybody else. Everyone at that tasting worked in the wine biz and NOBODY identified all six wines by color or varietal. Some got one or two right on color and I got two on varietal, which meant I got two on color but I whiffed on FOUR! Ya giggling now? Go try it.
We’ve developed a mindset that says that red is serious and deep and profound and whites are basically good for cooling off but not what REAL wine connoisseurs drink. Which is, to put it mildly, robbing MILLIONS of wine fans of some of the best experiences of their wine lives. I posted something in The Pour Fool, in which I named the five best wines I’ve ever tasted. One is an Italian white and I caught a BLIZZARD of scorn from people saying, “How can a white EVER be considered on a par with reds?”
In an online forum for what are allegedly advanced wine fans, the term “SWs” appeared and became a fixture of wine-geek discussions everywhere. The term means, “Sissy Whites”, and was used to cast those who openly admitted drinking whites as unmanly. Setting aside for the moment the strong argument that, as Joe Six-Pack would put it, “real men don’t drink wine, they drink beer and whiskey, period!“, wine snobbery is wine snobbery, no matter what lens you shoot it through. I opined that I doubted that most of the people posting on that forum could pass Cleese’s blind tasting test and quickly became persona no grata, (hardly a new experience for me) and was treated to a tsunami of scorn. “OF COURSE I could tell!” one yokel sneered, “Reds are fuller and richer and more complete and whites are for SISSIES!“. “Try it and get back to me,” I replied.
I BEG YOU, if you actually love WINE and are not using it as some lifestyle accessory aimed at proving how uber-cool you are, DO NOT take on that asinine, adolescent ‘tude about red over white. If you need intensity in a wine to hold your interest, find a great Gewurztraminer and have at it. If you want something as crowd-pleasing and uncomplicated as your pet Merlot, and still want to keep your French snob cred intact, try the Domaine de La Bretonnière, Cuvée Prestige, Muscadet, de Sèvre et Maine on for size. Yeah, that’s a mouthful to say and even moreso to taste. If you want something as complex and serious as your Cabernet, pick up (before it’s gone!) the DeLille 2019 Chaleur Blanc 25th Vintage White.
Oh…BTW: that white that I named as one of my all-time favorite Top Five? Cantine Marisa Cuomo “Fiorduva” Amalfi Bianco, of which the website goodwineitaly.com had this to say:
“Furore Bianco Fiorduva is the magnificent result of the undoubted experience of Marisa Cuomo in the art of winemaking. Three grapes combine to create such a masterpiece, Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli, hand-picked to preserve the precious organoleptic characteristics together create a precious nectar with golden shade that gives the eye a joyful representation of the sun kissing the Amalfi Coast. Here is where Marisa Cuomo grows her vines, caressed by the wind enriched by the perfumes of the Mediterranean Sea, where the grapes are enhanced by voluptuous and fresh shades that can be found in tasting. Enchant your senses with fine veins of sweet ripe apricot, combined with the sensual scents of broom that makes you desire to drink it on a terrace of the Amalfi Coast. In tasting it discovers a golden world of a unique fullness. The complexity of perfumes gives romantic and tasty sips, ending with a special smoothness with which the Furore Bianco Fiorduva of Marisa Cuomo caresses the palate. It leaves us breathless, thinking on the plurality of expression with which the Fiorduva describes the terroir of Furore, dominated by the influence of the Tyrrhenian Sea easily revealing brackish and fresh shades. A great wine that make us fall in love with the native grapes of the Amalfi Coast and expressing their full potential with aging. The Furore Bianco Fiorduva of Marisa Cuomo winery is truly a golden masterpiece.“
1. If I ever write anything like that, kill me, kill me now.
2. This was NOT written by the winery, which means I’m not the only starry-eyed yutz who ever fell for this wine.
3. Every fuggen word true.
**sigh** Okay, rant/rapture over.
Drink Mo’ Whites.