A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life
To subscribe and be notified anytime we post a new article, enter your email address in the box below, then click on Subscribe Now.

Retrospective Review

Retrospective Review: Volume I, Number 4 (February-March, 1980)

John Tilson • 6/10/10        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share


We are reproducing here a copy of the fourth issue of The Underground Wineletter. Below you’ll find an updated review of each article, where I will go over what we got right and what we got wrong. We will follow this format with each successive issue. So Volume I, Number 5 will be coming next. We think you will find the chronology will present a very interesting view of the evolution of many different wines as the “Wine Boom” took hold. At the end of this review you can click to read the entire issue. We welcome your comments.

In Volume I, Number 4, February-March 1980, we began with “Why the ‘Underground Wineletter’? Are We Terrorists?” In this edition I wrote why we began the wineletter, what we set as objectives and our approach. Then, as now, our interest is in drinking wine and reporting on its merits as objectively as possible. We expect criticism, especially when our comments may be unfavorable. But, our only objective is to offer opinion that is constructive and in the end everyone – producer, distributor, retailer and consumer – should benefit. The “Underground” reflects our commitment to be as free from outside influence as possible. As we said then: “This is our battle.” Not exactly the stuff to satisfy Genghis Khan, but we think Thomas Jefferson would approve. And, far away in some remote and well-stocked, sub-celestial cellar, Bacchus smiles, nods approvingly and proclaims “Finally on earth, The Underground Wineletter, Veni, Vidi, Vici.”

Next we reviewed 1976 Bordeaux with the notation that “The 1976s are just as expensive as the generally superior 1975s. And we concluded, “Be selective; for over time many of the 1976s are quite good, many others are light and uninteresting.”

We reviewed 65 wines, with three getting an outstanding rating, Twenty-six were rated very good, 28 were scored good and 8 below average. At the top were Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild and Petrus. Of them, I would say that Lafite would be at the top of my list today. Included in very good were La Mission Haut Brion and Latour. I have enjoyed many bottles of the 1976 La Mission Haut Brion and have found it to be a lovely wine. The Latour I have not had in many years. The Margaux we found only good and said “The 1976 is yet another in a long line of disappointments. Will this outstanding property ever return to form?” Little did we know that the change of ownership of the property in 1976 would result in such an immediate turnaround. And, under the ownership of the Mentzelopoulos family, the property would return to form beginning with the 1978 vintage. Since then, Margaux has been amazing by consistently producing outstanding wines of finesse, married with richness and complexity.

Our article on domestic Gewurztraminer concluded “There is one instance where warning labels might be appropriate. For while not damaging to your health they certainly can raise havoc with your taste buds.” Said another way, we did not think much of them! Of the 35 wines reviewed, only one rated very good (and at the very low end). 19 rated good and 14 were rated below average. You may ask why did we review the wines? That is a good question. But, we explained that, at the time, Gewurztraminer was very popular. I must say in the years since I have rarely tasted a domestic Gewurztraminer. However, I believe that our statement that “It seems inconceivable that domestic Gewurztraminer can get any worse!” was probably a very accurate assessment.

Our Chardonnay reviews continued with a report on 21 wines, mostly 1978s. Two rated outstanding, the 1977 Mayacamas and the 1978 Chalone. Close behind were the 1977 Heitz and Stony Hill bottlings. These were some of the best and most consistent Chardonnays of the 1970s and 1980s and most held very well. Poor Chardonnays were produced by some of the older and larger wineries such as BV, Charles Krug, Parducci and Wente Brothers. In those days, quality control was not at the level it is today.

In Vino Veritas,

John Tilson


Post a Comment

3 comments for “Retrospective Review: Volume I, Number 4 (February-March, 1980)”

  • stan trilling says:

    Love the letter.Wouldlike to see more pairing idea.

    Like you I enjoy my wine with food.Crazy pairings with popcorn was great. Avalability of your ideas would be helpful.

  • Kristi Davis says:

    Interesting what an effect that the change of ownership had.

  • Post a Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.