Devotion to icon wine in the 1980’s

As I was on the train to work earlier this week I got the inspiration for my Monthly Wine Writing Challenge article. The theme, chosen by last months winner SAHMmelier, is Devotion (see the article and the rules of #MWWC7 here). The theme is inspired by the 80’s… as is my article!

One of the books I go back to time and time again on my journey to and from work is the excellent “1,001 wines you should try before you die”. The book is published by Cassell Illustrated and written by a team of wine connoisseurs, with Hugh Johnson providing the preface. Included in the pages are wines of legend such as DRC, Gaja and Vega Sicilia as well as plenty of New World classics, including Screaming Eagle and Penfold’s Grange.  But what really brought a smile to my face was the inclusion of Blue Nun… No, that wasn’t a typo!

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This got me thinking about wines of yesteryear, wines I remember in the house when I was growing up. So many of these wines have such a bad reputation these days but the UK was devoted to them in the 80’s. The fact they are still available on the supermarket shelves suggests they enjoy a (possibly cult) following; they don’t cost a lot and, in a few cases, are highly recognisable. So I thought I’d take a closer look at a few of these 80’s icons and see whether there is any chance that we could, or should, become devoted to them once again.

Please step forward Blue Nun, Mateus Rose and La Piat D’Or:

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1. Blue Nun

Blue Nun is a German wine brand launched all the way back in 1923 and between the 1950s and 1980s was one of the largest international wine brands in the world. But imagine the response you would get if you brought a bottle along to a fancy dinner party these days! The brand has actually gone through a number of changes over the past 20 years, starting when German family firm Langguth purchased it in 1996.

The first thing the company did was to reclassify the wine as a Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA). Before that it was classified as a lowly Liebraumich, which is a generic name for wines produced from a multitude of different grapes from here, there and almost anywhere. The QbA designation requires that the wine must come from a designated region (Rheinhessen for Blue Nun) and must also contain at least 70% Riesling, Silvaner or Müller-Thurgau, and it must have 18-40g/litre residual sugar. Blue Nun now contains a minimum of 30% Riesling in the blend, the rest being Muller-Thurgau (Rivaner) and the wine is made in a noticeably drier style, with residual sugar reduced from 42 g/l to 28 g/l.

So obviously Blue Nun has a perception problem… but does it deserve it?

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Blue Nun Rivaner Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany

Pale straw in colour – it’s not blue! The nose is very grapey, with a bit of tangerine and something a bit medicinal – a bit reminiscent of nail polish. The plate is quite confected, almost like candied tangerine, and there’s also the flavour of bruised apples. With a bitterness and astringency on the thankfully short finish, Blue Nun has very few redeeming features. I really wanted to like this too!

2. Mateus Rose

Mateus is another brand that has been around for decades, first launched all the way back in 1942. The Portuguese wine was a staple at dinner parties in the 1970’s and is so recognisable in its broad, bulbous bottle, which was inspired by the flasks used by soldiers during World War 1. The style of wine is medium-sweet frizzante rosé, the sweetness being reduced in the early 2000’s.

I have had a number of enjoyable holidays to the Algarve in Portugal and must admit to being rather a fan of Mateus – it is a very easy drinking style of wine which is perfect for long summer afternoons sitting by the pool. Mateus Rose wine is made from a variety of red Portuguese grapes, including Baga, Rufete, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca sourced primarily from Portugal’s premium Douro and Bairrada DOC regions. These days has an Alcohol level of 11% and residual sugarat 15g/l – probably nowhere as sweet as you were expecting.

One of my favourite myths about the brand is that the owner of the 18th century baroque country mansion on the label was offered a percentage of the sale from every bottle as payment but chose a one-off payment instead… Oh the power of hindsight! So let’s have a sip and see why millions of bottles have been, and continue to be, sold around the world:

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Mateus The Original Rose NV, Portugal

Quite a deep pink salmon colour and aromas of unripe strawberries and white grapes with just a hint of rose petal. Slight spritz on the palate and enough strawberry and raspberry flavour to make it interesting – there is a touch of sweetness upfront to give it the taste of a boiled fruit sweet. The finish is actually pretty dry and quite floral – actually a very pretty wine but really needs some sunshine!

3. La Piat D’Or

And what better red to focus on the oh so sophisticated La Piat D’Or (also available in white and rose!). My parents weren’t big wine fans when I was growing up (they’re getting better these days!) but I do remember a bottle of Piat D’Or making an appearance on a special occasion. In my first year at university, one of the guys on my wing would also break out a bottle from time to time… I though he was being extremely flash!

A youngster compared to Blue Nun and Mateues, La Piat D’Or was only launched in 1978… hell, it’s a few years younger than me! But what it does have is heritage; if you call heritage a memorable advertising campaign! Whoever can forget the famous line “La Francais adore la Piat D’Or”? click to see the ad! It turns out the French didn’t even know what La Piat D’Or even was… It was all exported to the UK and USA! And although the label declares “produit de France”, but if you look closely you will find that it is actually bottled in Italy!! And what’s happened to the slightly tubby bottle of the 80’s and 90’s? Now all we get is a standard Bordeaux bottle with a very cheap and cheerful label.

However hard I try I cannot find an detail of what grapes go into the wine… let’s see if a taste gives us any clues…

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Piat d’Or Soft & Smooth Red NV, France

The armoas need plenty of coaxing out, but after good old swish there’s a decent nose of black cherry and blackberry with a dash of black spice – I was expecting it be very stewed and jammy but nothing of the sort. On the palate it’s black cherry and a hint of menthol – a bit like drinking a glass of boiled down Tunes! There’s nothing special going on but there’s also nothing to dislike – if you got this in a jug in a bistro with no idea what it was, you wouldn’t tell anyone about it but you probably wouldn’t send it back.

Time has moved on and these wines are never going to receive the same level of devotion that they enjoyed a couple of decades ago but they’re probably not as bad as your perception would have you believe. I was disappointed by Blue Nun, Mateus met my expectations and Piat d’Or didn’t offend – I was sure it would! Of the three, I may well enjoy a bottle of Mateus on a sunny day in Portugal, but realistically there are so many better wines out there, and so little time to keep looking back… Right where’s that bottle of Volnay… my real devotion!!

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Posted on February 8, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Hey, I know those wines. At one time, buying a you one of them was really stepping out.

  2. Thanks for this trip down memory lane. It’s amazing to think of the transformation in the UK public’s appreciation of wine over just a generation or so. I can remember back when a bottle of Black Tower Liebfraumilch was the wine of choice to take to a party. Makes me shudder, just thinking about it.

  3. Hey Ant

    Le Piat D’Or was actually invented by a guy I play cricket with. He used to work as a product development consultant for what’s now Diageo (amoungst other things he also invented Baileys which is another great story). If you wikipedia it I reckon it might help you out, but from what I remember it was using very very cheap grapes from southern italy, and used red colourant to give it the purple haze.

    It was never on sale in France and they used plenty of loopholes in fledgling european wine laws for the labelling.

    The whole thing was a marketing exercise. They went off the idea that most people in the 70s and 80s in the UK walked into a wine shop and hadn’t the first idea what to buy. So they stuck a big golden label on it to draw peoples’ attentions and gave it a good old french sounding name. It recognised that if people tried it once, it wasn’t awful, so they just kept buying it.

    Good job that’s not what happens these days….oh wait!

    • That’s brilliant! It seems that the grapes (whatever they are!) are now grown in France and then shifted to Italy for bottling (don’t know where fermentation takes place). Truth be told there’s not a lot wrong with it – pretty inoffensive, if certainly not very exciting. Don’t think we should include it in #newwinethisweek though!

  4. Thanks for playing #MWWC7!

  5. Don’t forget Bull’s Blood – whatever happened to that?!! PS I think there is a ‘t’ missing in first sentence (do edit my comment 🙂 )

  6. Lovely post! What fun to revisit those wine memories!! I remember Blue Nun and Mateus, but not Piat d’Or. The iconic 80s wine that sticks in my memory is Riunite (on ice, that’s nice!). Salud!

  7. I consider Blue Nun a gateway wine…a wine many beginners love and then move on to other wines eventually. Still value in that wine!

  8. Wow… you deserve to win just for drinking those! I remember Blue Nun commercials on TV (was far too young to be able to drink it, mercifully). I also recall Paul Masson commercials with Orson Welles. I don’t think that’s around anymore, but I have seen bottles of Boone’s Farm, Night Train, Cold Duck, Gallo, and boxes of Franzia around. Those are best served with a serious helping of self-loathing, though…

  9. My father in law had told me about dinner parties w that rose. Fun piece!

  10. A trip down memory lane and such a fun read. LOVED this post!

  11. You show true devotion trying three wines with a “reputation”. Thank goodness Boones Farm wasn’t on this list. Its a “wine” no one should try.

  12. I had to smile that these 3 were listed in the 1001 wines book! I suppose it makes sense; you should try the best and also try the most well known, even if they are almost undrinkable.

  1. Pingback: Words of Devotion #MWWC7 | SAHMmelier

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  3. Pingback: My Vinous Values | Confessions of a Wine Geek

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