Google’s recent inclusion of Life Magazine’s entire archive in its Google Books feature details the rich tapestry of American life in the 20th Century. From 1936 to 1972, Life published 1,860 weekly issues & now Google has made them available for free.
You’ll find Richard Meryman’s famous last interview with Marilyn Monroe & Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on VJ Day. But what you’ll also find are more than 500 articles on wine life in America, from tasting notes to pairings, how to serve it, & much, much more. At the dawn of Life’s inception, America was slowly waking from the long national nightmare of Prohibition. During the magazine’s lifespan, American GIs returned from World War II in Italy & brought home countless bottles of straw-wrapped Chianti. It’s a time when Thunderbird was the most popular wine in the country. These events occurred before Robert Mondavi convinced us that wine could be good for us, before the Tasting of Paris, & before the rise of the uber critic Robert Parker.
Here are a few highlights from Life’s pages over the decades.
“I am amazed,” reports Mrs. Basil Rathbone in the Sept. 11, 1939 issue, “how many of my guests now prefer wine”. The master of stage & screen is portrayed at a formal dinner with his wife & another couple – all enjoying both white & red wines – poured by a servant, of course.
In the Dec. 15, 1941 issue, “The Old Wine Master” cheerfully advises to, “Be your own ‘expert’ in choosing a wine” by learning to “trust your taste.” This sounds quite a bit like the line certain very vocal members of Generation Y the Millennial Generation scream at us today. The adage “old wine, new bottles,” has never been truer, apparently.
California Wine SelectorIn the Oct. 12, 1953 issue, there’s an ad encouraging Americans to “taste California wine tonight” & includes an image of an instructional pamphlet titled “California Wine Selector” that bears a striking resemblance to today’s Wine Spectator magazine.
The magazine trumpeted wines from then-little-known production areas such as New York’s Finger Lakes in the Oct. 21, 1966 edition with an ad extolling the virtues of the virtually unknown Great Western Pink Catawba grape.
The Feb. 4, 1972 issue includes a review of a brand new book called “The World Atlas of Wine” by “Hugh Johnson – an astonishingly knowledgeable Englishman of 34.
This archive is a treasure trove detailed how America grew up with the fruit of the vine. It’s worth uncorking a bottle of something domestic to pair while reading. Both Life & wine are good to the last drop.