Growing up with wine

I remember my parents often having a civilised drink before dinner. Though when I was very young this was not wine, I think it was usually Pimms, with ice I think. No I now recall that (NZ) ‘sherry’ was most common (which had an odd deep brassy orange colour).

Interestingly today they still don’t drink wine daily, though there is nothing stopping them – they do when I visit. And they largely drink one wine, Sauvignon Blanc, and largely one brand. Again except when I visit when they really enjoy trying different wines.

I remember going to a ‘wine and cheese’ event, this was a first I believe – a new social event in New Zealand. I think it was to raise funds for a charity, church or school – these became very popular for a while. For us kids there was soft-drink and chips. At this event was a wine called ‘hock’ (which seemed, to us children, to be a very odd name). I remember adults commenting that this ‘hock’ was all the rage. It was short for something like Hochenheim I believe though it was not German, nor probably made from Riesling.

Later wine appeared at all family social occasions, it was particularly popular with my grand-mother who drank it every night I think. We all used to think it was funny when she got a little ‘tipsy’ (lovely word). My other grand-parents didn’t like table wine much, except for very sweet sparkling, prefering sweet sherry. They cellared a bottle of Black Tower a bulk German wine for decades – I’m not sure if it was ever opened let alone consumed (I’m sure it would not have been drinkable).

Muller-Thurgau became the wine, particularly a few brands like Whonsiedler (or some such fake German name). I remember its distinctive dappled glass bottle – though bag in the box became dominant. We kids were delighted by the technology of bag-in-the-box, fascinated by the tap, and the plastic bag inside. We could pour an adult a glass whereas we couldn’t pour a heavy wine bottle (they were mostly large flagons or litre bottles back then – certainly no long-necked German bottles).

Wine was seen as a posh drink, and drunk from cut crystal glasses, even if it did come from a flagon or a box.

Mueller-Thurgau was the first wine I ever drank, and contrary to its reputation my memories aren’t that it was bad. Nor that it was as sweet as people later made out – when dry wines took over this was the principal criticism of Mueller-Thurgau, dry-ness became synonymous with quality (fashion and class) in the same way as in Roman to Victorian times sweetness was the mark of quality. NZ Mueller-Thurgau was not without charm, it was of medium sweetness, quite dilute, with acidity but low alcohol (possibly chapitalised). OK it sounds pretty awful, closer to grape juice than wine, which it probably was but it was better than the awful grape juice sold in New Zealand at the time. It worked as a bridge for those of us going from fruit juice and cordial to wine.

Occasionally red wine was seen. In fact I have a vague memory of seeing red Whonseidler (same distinctive bottle) which I think was a pale sweet red!!

All this pre-dates when I started drinking wine by which time the scene was becoming dominanted by 3 classic varietals (Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon) – but that is another story.

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