Monday, 15 November 2010

Back to the future - it's the Seventies

Many of you reading this (have you got your specs on?) and indeed we writers, remember the colourful and hedonistic hippy happy days of the 70’s.

Listening to Johnny Walker’s (yes he is still alive) Sounds of the Seventies on the radio (wireless if you will) we were reminded of not just the fabulous music that emerged in that decade, but all the parties and indulgences of the era, not least the growing popularity of wine as the fashionable beverage.

Today Seventies parties feature such delectable items from the past such as cheddar and silverskin onions on sticks, melon with Port, curried eggs, Black Forest gateau and prawn cocktail. ... Ahh, you still eat these? OK, then we'll talk about the wines which, thankfully for all our palates, have moved on a bit.

Who loves ya, baby?” Lt. Kojak - Or, wines that have made it through...and some that haven't

Mateus Rosé is one of the wine world's most enduring brands. Born in the depths of the Second World War, its heyday was the 1970s. The wine itself is inoffensive enough: pink, off-dry, slightly sparkling. Its fame was largely down to the winemakers' inspired decision to put it in a distinctive flask-shaped bottle – perfect for turning into a table lamp base or candle holder. In fact it has been said, rather uncharitably, that Mateus is the only wine that is worth more when the bottle is empty.

Aside from the contents, Mateus Rosé is the cause of one of the most infamously bad business decisions in wine trade history: the Mateus Palace story.

The Guedes family started making Mateus Rose in 1942. To complement the unique bottle shape they wanted to include a picture of Palacio de Mateus, a picturesque property near the winery, on the label. The property didn't belong to the family, so they offered the owners either a one-off payment for the use of the picture - or 15 cents per bottle sold. They owners took the one-off payment option.... Nowadays Mateus sells around 20 million bottles around the world, but in the Seventies it was double that – amounting to a tidy $3 million dollars annual income, up in smoke...or down the drain.

Mateus also has the dubious honour of being a favourite of Saddam Hussein and quantities of it were, reputedly, found in his presidential palaces following the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Today you can – and many still do – drink Mateus rosé. The bottle design but not the iconic shape has been changed to suit the times and we are not averse to its charms on a sun-drenched beach whilst savouring freshly-caught seafood. It is, after all, from Portugal, boasting 364 days of sunshine, and still the best place to drink it.

Don Cortez – hazy memories of something in litre-sized bottles labelled Full-bodied Spanish Red linger in the mind from parents' dinner parties, served alongside the cheese and onion nibbles, cheese straws and smears of paté on Ritz crackers. This wine seems to have sunk without trace...and probably rightly so.

Poor old Lutomer Laski Riesling, or rather, poor us for having to drink the stuff. White, sickly sweet and sulphurous, it was a mainstay of seventies bring a bottle parties: a few bottles of this, together with your Watney's Party Seven, was instant karma. It also played a role in sullying the image of true Riesling – Laski Riesling is not the same variety, but they weren't in any hurry to point this out. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and at least the break up of the former Yugoslavia resulted in the demise of this bilious beverage.

Other “great whites” of the decade were Blue Nun and Black Tower. These sickly, lolly-water wines probably put the German wine industry back decades, making us associate anything in a tall green bottle with cheap and nasty. Oscar Wilde's adage, “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.” seems to hold true – both these brands survive and even prosper in the present day..

I want it all and I want it now” Freddie Mercury.

The French adore Le Piat d'or” - great catchphrase, but what of the wine? Launched in 1979, this Johnny come lately to the seventies wine scene carried a bit of cachet at the time, but from memory the wines were rather sugary and bland. It is, however, still going, and going strong in the UK, and is, to coin a phrase, big in Japan.

The epitome of cool was the Italian vermouth, Martini, “any time, any place, anywhere”, which promised a taste of the glamour of newly accessible cheap foreign travel. Still hugely popular and great as a long summer drink, preferably with tonic water rather than lemonade as was the fashion at the time.

We are coming up to the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau, Thursday 18th November this year. In the Seventies this was a highly celebrated media event with races to get this alcoholic fruit cordial of a wine to Blighty via all means possible - from canoe to Harrier jump jets. Today it retains a mere soupçon of its former glory but is still a feature of not only major wine distributors but also for those participants who build a luxury holiday around the event. Try your Beaujolais Nouveau with a ripe camembert and crusty bread – but please do not include the pickled onions!

We could continue our reminiscence but think it about time we embraced the present and focus on two distinctly modern wines from Spain.

El Molino Loco Macabeo, £6.25 from Banish all thoughts of deep-coloured, oxidised Spanish whites from your mind – this is bright, fresh, crisp and unoaked.

Carchelo, £10.99 from Oddbins – a blend of Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon with a whisper of new oak. This full-on mouthful of deep, dark blueberry fruit is a world away from the Old Spain of the Seventies.

Our tastes in wine may have changed and become more sophisticated over the years, but hey, the old music still “does the biz!”!

It’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it”. Rolling Stones

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