Back in the 70s, when Chablis was a generic term for anything Californian and white, the average Manhattan restaurant would offer three wines by the glass—one red, one white, one sparkling—and frequently served each out of a magnum (or jug, rather) that may or may not have sat open on the back bar for days, waiting for takers. Thus, it’s not really surprising that Martinis, Manhattans, and Harvey Wallbangers won the day. Not exactly the decade for wine, unless of course you were Kermit Lynch or Neal Rosenthal skipping through France and drinking the world’s finest wines for cents on the dollar. For everyone else, however, it was a decade where terrible stereotypes were built: Chianti in the straw bottle, Soave by the gallon, and of course, Chablis moonlighting as a CA wine.
“Wine-ing” During The Reagan Years
Then came the Reagan years, when Wall Street started slinging bags of cash (and cocaine), and restaurants began to feature two or even (gasp) three selections in each color-coded category, most often from “exotic” regions such as France, Italy, and Spain. Proper cellaring became standard, and wine appreciation held pace with the mushrooming of more diverse beverage programs.
The Golden Age
Today, few would argue the fact that we’re living in a golden age for wine consumption in America, a time when one stands to find wine lists as deep as they are wide, as inspired as they are organized. But even the upswing comes with its own challenges. Much of the diversity we see today comes in the form of small production wines that are often gloriously obscure, as well as gloriously difficult to navigate. More wine than ever is being imported to the US; Croatia and even Morocco are creating a market for themselves, and even the most keen wine geeks might have trouble keeping up. Enter the sommeliers. At a time like this, it couldn’t be more important to have these spirited individuals in our midst, acting as ambassadors to all fine vinous products, and remember, these somms aren’t your grandfather’s maitre d’s. A major bonus of this new wine era is that it has inspired young, charismatic wine directors to govern the field, forcing the stiff, tastevin-toting dinosaurs of the previous decades to pack away the pince-nez and fade into obscurity. Sure, the white tablecloths and proper lighting—those elements of grandeur that once completed the sensual experience of imbibing—may be on their way to extinction as well, but it’s all a part of the great demystification of fine “wine-ing.”
And so, what we hope for in the coming decade, is that our sommeliers begin to gain the recognition they deserve, our sommeliers who, like their fellow chefs and restaurant owners, become celebrities in their own right. What we hope for is that this decade is one in which we start to recognize how far we’ve come, and find a way to thank those who brought us here.