Wine Sages of Baltimore

Wine, Baltimore, France, Uncle Sam

The Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, Maryland was another branch of the André Simon-founded Wine & Food Society in London. It held an intriguing wine taste-off in 1980. The program may be read heredigitally archived at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.



The document refers to the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, or famed “Judgment of Paris”, an epochal tasting held in France. A California cabernet sauvignon, Stag’s Leap, and a chardonnay, Chateau Montelena, had highest average score in a blind tasting of French and American examples. The wine world was shaken, and it is generally agreed California and New World winemaking received a major fillip as a result.

In tune with such blind tasting Baltimore wine devotees held their own such tasting of American and European wines. Wines were tasted in groups of two, in foil-wrapped bottles. Tasters were told the wine type but not the origin of each bottle.

Only one set of taste notes is included with the program. It opines which wine was Californian or European and states attributes of nose and taste.  The winners were judged by a show of hands, with the results not tabulated here.

The sociological implications of the event are at least as important as the taste opinions of the panel. Putting American wines up against top European wines in a regional American centre at that time showed a high level of pride already existing in American winemaking.

It was not the first such comparative tasting in the U.S., or indeed the first this wine society did. The Baltimore chapter compared American and European wines as early as 1948. I will return to it later. The context is not quite the same as for the 1980 tasting, but still, the tasting is significant.

The early records of the Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, which still goes strong, are lodged with the Enoch Pratt – a fine resource for gastronomic researchers. A list of the dinners and tastings held by the Society since inception may be reviewed online. Intelligent and creative they are especially given the periods covered. Wines from a wide range of countries or regions were tasted.

So were Scotch whiskies in 1975, at an event called “A Wine Tasting of Scotch Whiskies”. The somewhat contradictory title shows that tasters were starting to apply wine judging methods to non-wine alcohol, as is legion today, and later occurred for beer.

Still, the list of Baltimore events (see pp 17-22) appears not to reflect a beer tasting. A pity considering the lengthy and variegated beer and brewing culture of Baltimore. Was it an upstairs-downstairs thing, or the happenstance that attends any endeavour of this type? I cannot say.

The New York chapter of the same society held at least three beer events in the 1940s, for example.

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