Tag Archives: wine history

When Blue Nun ruled the wine world

In the 1980s, the German company that produced Blue Nun exported 2 million cases of the cheap, sweetish white wine, making it the YellowTail of its day. In this, it was supposed to be the fabled gateway wine — something that would introduce non-wine drinkers to wine. Then, they would progress from Blue Nun to dry wine wine and eventually turn into smart, sophisticated, and savvy wine drinkers.

That never happened (and, as I discuss in the cheap wine book, probably never will). Blue Nun, like all potential gateway wines, whether white zinfandel or YellowTail, reached its peak and hit a plateau, and consumers moved on to something else. Blue Nun is still around and still sells millions of cases, but it’s not what it was.

How big was Blue Nun then? I had dinner at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans in 1982 in the swanky upstairs dining room, and six or eight people at the table next to us were drinking Blue Nun. That they ordered it at one of the world’s great restaurants and which had an equally great wine list speaks to how comfortable it made those diners feel. Because, of course, Blue Nun was the white wine that’s correct with any dish – a brilliant marketing slogan for U.S. wine drinkers hung up on wine and food pairings, and just as true now as then.

Not all of the wine’s marketing was that good, as this TV commercial from 1985 – when it was on its downhill slide — demonstrates (courtesy of xntryk1 at YouTube):

A brief history of wine

image from openclipart.org

Those Roman wine critics were a hoot; Columella complained about low prices.

These things really happened. Sort of, anyway.

3000 BC: Egyptians and Chinese are the first to ferment grapes to produce wine. Pyramid hieroglyphics show winemakers bemoaning three-tier system, since they can’t ship direct to other parts of ancient world.

2000 BC: Greeks and later Romans spread wine culture throughout the Mediterranean, and Romans produce first wine critics. Roman Empire collapses 2500 years later – certainly not a coincidence.

35 AD: Jesus turns water into wine. Wine Spectator gives His effort an 84, noting lack of oak and fruit.

12th Century: Henry II of England marries Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose dowry includes Bordeaux, to form pioneering multi-national wine company. The first cute labels, with names like Maiden’s Merlot and Days and Knights, appear on store shelves.

17th century: European colonizers fail to successfully grow grapes in North America. Among the most noticeable flops is Thomas Jefferson, which paves the way for Todd Kliman’s best-selling book, “The Wild Vine.”

1855: French announce first wine classification system, rating best wines in Bordeaux. Napa winemakers are furious and say they will wait for Robert Parker to invent scores before they make world-class wine.

1919: Prohibition, which outlawed the sale and manufacture of liquor in the U.S., begins. Hardly anyone stops drinking, and alcoholism rates may have increased.

Mid-1980s: Cranky ex-sportswriter starts writing about wine. Cosmos yawns, but the cosmos never did like cheap wine anyway.

21st century: Wine consumption in U.S. is at record highs. But no one seems to be very happy, do they?

Cartoon courtesy Bocian at OpenClipArt, using a Creative Commons license


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