Wine Sages of Baltimore

Wine, Baltimore, France, Uncle Sam

The Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, MD, another branch of the André Simon-founded Wine & Food Society in London, held an intriguing wine taste-off in 1980. The menu can be read heredigitally archived at the internationally-known Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.

The menu refers to the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting or “Judgment of Paris”, the epochal tasting 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 by the results and it is generally agreed California and New World winemaking received a huge filip as a result.

In tune with the new zeitgeist, Baltimore wine devotees held their own blind tasting of wines from the U.S. and Europe to assess individual and comparative merits. Wines were tasted in groups of two, in foil-wrapped bottles. Tasters knew the wine type but not the origin of each bottle.

Only one set of taste notes is included with the menu. It opines which wine was Californian or European and mentions attributes of nose and taste. It seems the taster got the national origin right in most cases although I find the notes unclear in a couple of respects.

I’ll refrain from commenting on the wines themselves due to insufficient knowledge, but if anyone knows more, we are all ears.

The sociological dimension of this event is at least as important as the organoleptic one, though. Putting American wines up against top European crus in a prominent but regional American city shows that almost 40 years ago, a high level of Yankee pride in American wine culture had emerged.

This was not the first comparative national tasting in the U.S., or indeed the first this wine society did. The Baltimore chapter did an A/B of American and European wines as early as 1948. I’ll return later to it. Its context was not quite the same as for the 1980 tasting, but what they did is very interesting.

The records of the early phase of the Wine and Food Society of Baltimore, still going strong, have been lodged with the Enoch Pratt – a fine resource for gastronomic researchers. A list of the dinners and tastings held by the Society since inception can be perused online for example. Intelligent and creative it is especially given the period covered. Wines from a wide range of countries or regions were tasted, and so were Scotch whiskies, in 1975 at an event termed “A Wine Tasting of Scotch Whiskies”. The somewhat contradictory title does show that the lens of wine appreciation was starting to be applied to some non-wine alcohol, as is legion today.

We are pained (a little) to record that the long list of events (see pp 17-22) appears not to contain a single beer tasting. What a pity considering the lengthy and variegated beer and brewing culture of Baltimore. Was it an upstairs-downstairs thing, or just the happenstance that attends any endeavour no matter the scope and range intended? We cannot say, at this remove and date. The New York chapter of the same Society held at least three beer events in the 1940s, for example.

It is possible some of the national-theme dinners, the one, say, for Holland, included some beer at table. We hope so, here at Beer Et Seq headquarters.

Note re image: The image above was extracted from the original, digitized menu linked in the text. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.