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Julia Child and wine, both local and cheap

Julia Child is rightfully credited with making American cooking more than steak, baked potatoes, and a dinner salad of iceberg lettuce, rubber tomatoes, and bottled French salad dressing. What’s often overlooked is her role in helping us figure out this wine thing, and especially her advocacy for American wine, which was pretty much unknown 50 years ago.

Child was passionate about wine, and it’s worth watching the grainy black and white episodes of the original “French Chef” public television show to see just how passionate. In the second episode, aired in 1963, she prepares her classic Boeuf Bourguignon, and it includes a very intelligent discussion about wine to serve with the stew. You can see it at 25:58 of the linked item; she recommends mountain red, a California jug wine made with zinfandel, and explains why it’s not necessary to buy an expensive bottle of red Burgundy. No wonder, as Jacques Pepin once told me, “what you saw with Julia was what you got.”

Child did a wine and cheese episode in 1970, and the array of bottles — six French wines with their American counterparts — must have been as confusing as molecular biology to most of her audience.  That’s because dessert wines were the best-selling wine in the U.S. until 1967 (part of the discussion in Chapter II of the Cheap Wine book), and the first U.S. wine boom was still five years off.

Some of the best wine advice ever written is in “The French Chef Cookbook,” published in 1968. Rose goes with anything, says Child, and she does not have kind words for retailers who offer less than helpful advice. There are also wine and food pairing suggestions, still relevant today, and she explains why there’s nothing wrong with cheap wine for everyday meals. My favorite part, though, is this: “The simplest way to start in on this pleasant hobby is to buy wines, start sampling, discussing, keeping notes, reading about wines, thinking about them, and enjoying them.”

Sounds like a great plan, no?

7 Responses to Julia Child and wine, both local and cheap

  1. julie@pedroncelli.com' Julie St. John says:

    Thank you for this post. Julia Child was so important in the early years of promoting U.S. wines and just think how many people she reached talking about wine as part of our everyday meals. I was thrilled a few years ago to come across a newspaper clipping of “what’s in celebrity’s refrigerators” by Parade Magazine. I am including the link here as she had a bottle of Pedroncelli Chardonnay in her fridge! inhttp://www.pedroncelli.com/media/7624/pedroncelli_julia.jpg

  2. […] Jeff Siegel praises Julia Child for helping Americans “figure out this wine thing.” […]

  3. […] Jeff Siegel praises Julia Child for helping Americans “figure out this wine thing.” […]

  4. elryjetson@aol.com' john roland says:

    Very entertaining. I think I just missed her growing up. I will try to find her on the web data base of old shows. Clearly she was a special, special woman.

    • Special is a good word, John. I’m lucky enough to know several people who were friends with her, and the stories are tremendous.

      Amazon’s video service has the first couple of seasons of the original black and white “French Chef,” and the “French Chef” cookbook is a hoot.

  5. yochrislo@gmail.com' Chris Lowe says:

    Visited her kitchen on display at the Smithsonian in DC this past Easter. One wall features a poster of screenshot at the end of an episode in 1965. She’s pouring a glass of red, and although my photos can’t resolve the label, I do remember from seeing it in person it was a 1962 Cotes du Rhone.

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