In an appropriate follow-up to The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution (2013), Curbed Boston founding editor Acitelli wades into the colorful history of American fine wine, showing how, in 2014, the United States surpassed France to become the largest wine market in the world.
After an account of Julia Child’s alteration of Americans’ taste and culinary habits, the author steps back in time to recount America’s tangled relationship with wine, which resulted from Prohibition and its repeal and the trends in the 1950s, when the sale of unremarkable, mass-produced wines reached a peak. Acitelli then depicts how fine wines, defined as “any drier, non-fortified wine, at any price point, made primarily from higher-end grape types that originated in Europe,” at first nudged, then slowly replaced the undistinguished American wines. In mostly chronological fashion, the author effectively pulls together the stories of a diverse cast of characters with innovations in winemaking and marketing as well as popular culture, illustrating how wine shifted from either an undistinguished drink or a rare and expensive treat to a mainstream grocery item. Acitelli cites the importance of early wine critics such as Robert Lawrence Balzer, whose Beverly Hills Citizen columns served as the beginnings of wine criticism; and Ruth Ellen Church, who wrote “the nation’s first weekly wine column in the Chicago Tribune.” The author digs into the histories of America’s early winemakers—e.g., the Gallo and Mondavi families—as well as lesser-known but important individuals in the winemaking world such as artisan Joe Heitz or viticulture researcher Albert Winkler. Acitelli also recalls the infamous wine competition known as the 1976 Judgment of Paris, the evolution of wine bars, and how the exploding interest in local foods and numerous wine bloggers have contributed to the popularity and ubiquity of fine wines in America’s culinary scene.
A tasty combination of commercial and culinary history reflecting the maturations of the wine business and Americans’ taste buds.