The Never-Ending 'Pop Wine' Wars

Posted in: Editor's Journal
By Robert Johnson, Editor
Apr 19, 2010 - 8:00 AM

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     There has long been a somewhat snobbish attitude in America that anything that is popular can't possibly be good.

     That's why genres such a "pop music" and "pop art" are looked down upon by those supposedly in the know. Among music fans, it's much more hip, so the perception goes, to be into jazz or alt-country. Among art patrons, an appreciation for impressionism or surrealism is the price of admission to the most esteemed galleries.

     The world of wine is not immune to this pop culture phenomenon. Wine aficionados turn up their noses and roll their eyes at the best-selling wines of the day, insisting that only pricey Bordeaux or Napa Valley "cult" Cabernet Sauvignon is worthy of their dining room table.

     And this is nothing new. It dates back to the 1960s - roughly the same period as the blooming of the pop art era - when the popularity of fruit-flavored wines such as Annie Green Springs and Strawberry Hill sent shivers down the spines of the wine snobs.

     It continued into the 1970s, when a group of light-bodied wines from Italy, collectively known as Lambrusco, became widely popular across America. Remember Reunite? Its makers even went so far as to suggest serving it over ice. (Oh, the humanity!) At its height of popularity, Reunite was selling more than 10 million cases per year.

     Then came the 1980s, and the birth of the wine cooler. Commercials for Bartles and Jaymes were ubiquitous as those fictional characters fought for supermarket shelf space and brand superiority with Seagram's Golden Cooler, Sun Country and others. Wine coolers were widely derided by the wine cognizati... and sold like gangbusters.

     White Zinfandel was the successor to the wine cooler on the "pop wine" charts, and its popularity has waned only slightly. To this day, when someone orders a glass of Zinfandel in a restaurant, it's a good idea for the server to verify whether the customer actually means White Zin.

     My take on the never-ending skirmish between what's popular and what's "good"?

     The same as it always has been: Drink what you like.


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