Have you noticed that we don’t see commercials for wine on TV these days? Plenty of beer commercials, and even the occasional Arbor Mist ad. But not wine, at least not that I see in my limited TV watching.
Sure, the Food Network sometimes hawks its brand Entwine, especially around the holidays. And if you watch PBS cooking shows you get those practically-like-commercials “sponsored by” plugs that include wine brands. But they’re pretty dull. A couple of bottles dancing the tango for Todd English, some pretty views of vineyards for Lydia Bastianich, but that’s about it. You know you’ve reached a low point when the cute Best Buy guy shilling for Sara Moulton’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” is more interesting than Gina Gallo’s earnest-yet-monotone salute to Sara’s cooking. (It’s too bad, because in other videos Gina seems a lot more fun.)
It wasn’t always this way, though. Back in the 1970s and 80s there were a bunch of commercials for wine on TV. I was reminded of this last week when my blogger friend Jon Thorsen of Reverse Wine Snob reviewed Bolla’s 2011 Valpolicella. When I was growing up, Bolla was one of the few Italian wines you could find almost anywhere in the U.S. that didn’t come in a straw-wrapped bottle that would be used almost immediately as a candle holder (even before you finished the wine).
Bolla also had TV commercials, so I decided to hit youtube and take a look for them and other wine commercials of the era. This week’s post is a compilation of my favorites. The commercials are for mass-market wines and most are for imports. While some wine brands had different commercials for wines within a brand, each brand pretty much stuck to the same formula for its ads. All of these commercials are pretty funny, intentionally or not, which was my main criterion. A big thank you to the folks who posted these on youtube, you gave me a really fun afternoon.
On to the ads. In no particular order, 10 blasts from the past.
1. Bolla Valpolicella
This is the one that got me thinking about ads for this post. Bolla did a similar ad for Soave, its white wine, but this one is far campier. “What can you say about Bolla Valpolicella? That it’s red?” Well, duh! I’d rather know a couple of other things. Like what are these people doing sitting outside in the freezing cold? And did the producers realize that the guy in the ad would look like the epitome of a classic porn star in 30 years? Still, it’s a pretty ad with great Venetian gondolier-style music that reminds me of this classic (jump in to 1:00 if you want to skip the intro.) Seriously, try putting that tune out of your head!
2. Blue Nun
I have to believe that this was meant to be funny. Why else would they have an ad featuring a skating nun? The only thing that would make it more of an absolute howler is if they’d gotten Sally Field to star in it. (If you don’t get it, click here.) This was part of the Blue Nun ad blitz that included one-liner radio ads with Jerry Stiller and Ann Meara. (He: I brought home a little Blue Nun. She: Couldn’t you just have left an extra dollar in the collection plate?) Blue Nun didn’t take itself too seriously and sold boatloads of sub-mediocre German wine, which is probably the reason that Riesling is only now starting to get the attention it deserves.
Break out the disco ball and Love Boat-style theme for Reunite’s wine-can-be-fun ads. My favorite is the picnic ad, because nothing says fun like seeing how fast you can shove a hot dog in your mouth and get mustard all over your face, right? Nonetheless, it’s a catchy tune. And timely. The current holier-than-thou proponents of “natural” wine should take note. According to the jingle, Reunite is a “pure and natural wine” too. Just sayin’ is all.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Mateus’s curvy bottle and old-world label screamed sophistication when I was a kid. The commercial tried to boost that sophistication and maybe it did in 1971, but now it’s just a screamer itself. First of all, who thought “Hey hey hey hey, Mateus rosé” was a good jingle? And then there’s the voiceover, “The rosé wine that’s like a trip to Portugal.” Maybe, but then we hear “Portugal” again, a little more dreamily, and it sounds like the first step on the way to Homer Simpson drooling over donuts. Now all I can think of is Homer saying, “Waiter, bring me your second cheapest wine!”
Another pink wine from Portugal, this one in a short, stoneware bottle. In the ad, a pop star finishes a concert and leaves the theater followed by screaming female fans. Instead of ducking into his limo, he dashes into an apartment building and randomly knocks on the door of a woman who — oh look! — just happens to be listening to one of his albums. Of course, she serves him Lancers, “The wine you know because you never know…” Believe me, we know. This ad makes every stupid movie or TV rom-com seem like Chekhov.
6. Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante
“You brought home Champagne!” exclaims the woman, brightly. “No, it’s Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante,” the man replies. And so on, for the next 20 seconds or so. This would get tiresome, except at the end when the guy repeats “Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante…” over and over you can hear an edge creep into his voice. My prediction is that he’ll be featured in the all-male version of the Cell Block Tango in Chicago II (“I kept tellin’ her it wasn’t no f-in’ Champagne, but she wouldn’t listen…”) But for sure this commercial would please the French Champagne authorities, who took the White House to task for calling their California sparkling wine Champagne at a recent state dinner.
Gallo had advertised on TV for decades, and the mid-1980s saw a campaign to remind us how Gallo has always been a part of our lives. The ads are pretty much interchangeable, a haute version of the General Foods International Coffees “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life” ad campaign. What makes them over-the-top howlers, though, is their utter seriousness, the ponderous narration, and above all, the soaring Vangelis music. Oh, and they’re full-minute ads, too, which make every one of those moments of your life seem twice as long.
8. Black Tower
Another German import, the “White Wine in the Black Bottle.” The scene opens on said bottle sitting in rushing water — if the force of that water doesn’t knock the bottle over, it must weigh a ton — you’re in for a real treat when you try to lift it. But along with that nonsense you hear the ominously low-voiced narration suitable for an action movie trailer: “It stands toweringly tall on jagged rocks by the foamy splash of a stream…” You’d be expecting a missile to appear and blast it to pieces, right? Nope. Instead there’s a dopey-looking couple drinking. If they’re really enjoying Black Tower that much then they deserve each other, instead of ruining two other peoples’ lives.
9. Christian Brothers
Snob appeal has always been an important tool in advertising. And it’s still used to sell wine today. As I mentioned in a previous post, why would wineries boast about their sustainability if they didn’t think it would appeal to our do-gooder natures (and make other wineries seem less responsible for their silence)? But a little goes a long way, especially when there ain’t much to be snobby about. “Some people just eat, others really dine,” intones the narrator. You see a woman “just eating” who has clearly had too much to drink already slurring, “Waiter, the wine…” and then the waiter brings the bottle of Christian Brothers California “Chablis” over to a smart yet demure couple. Luckily, the voice-over lets us know that these people are “really dining,” or we wouldn’t have been able to guess on our own.
While some of the Cella commercials go on way too much about “Cella-bration,” I love the ad featuring Aldo Cella. A frumpy man who’s a ringer for the “It’s time to make the donuts” guy, Aldo gets out of his white convertible and, in his white suit, saunters through an outdoor cafe, cavorting with a bevy of beautiful women seated at the tables. The secret of Aldo’s success? His white wine, which has them all swooning. “Aldo Cella, he knows what women like!” It’s an absolute hoot. The only thing better is the parody of the ad that Johnny Carson did — it’s virtually the same up until the very end, when the women get up to follow him and they’re all visibly pregnant.
Before I wrap up, I want to talk about the commercials for two brands you won’t see here. First is Bartles and Jaymes which, although still really funny, are for wine coolers and not wine. The other is the series Orson Welles did for Paul Masson. Although the overwrought “We will sell no wine before its time” became iconic, the producers got smart and relegated it to print words at the end after the first ad. The ads that followed were informative and strike me as way ahead of their time. I can easily picture them remade almost word for word today with a little lighter touch. Do you think Alec Baldwin would be interested?
There are some really good deals on frozen fish these days, and Cy and I have been buying them and trying to figure out interesting ways to prepare them. If you’re in a hurry and didn’t have time to thaw the fish, baking the frozen fillets can be the best way to cook them so they’re not dry. It also allows you to add some great flavors that actually have a chance of flavoring the fish a little, since the fish will cook for 20 to 30 minutes.
If you’ve got meaty fish fillets, like monkfish or swordfish, Sicilian-style flavors can be great. I find that the combination of onions, garlic, olives, raisins, capers, pine nuts, and sun-dried tomatoes really perks things up. I use the same sort of relish on roasted cauliflower, too. We don’t usually get bright flavors in winter foods, so this is a way to do it. If you like red pepper flakes, go ahead and add them. A diced-up anchovy fillet is great, too. If you don’t have pine nuts around, try Marcona almonds, which are salty and delicious. I like to put toasted bread crumbs on top to give everything a little crunch, but feel free to leave them off if you don’t want to be bothered.
Monkfish and swordfish and all those other flavors pair well with red wine. I like Bodega Hiriart Roble ($14) with them, 100% Tempranillo aged a few months in oak, not a full-out big red but enough flavor to stand up to everything. You’ll get a warm glow that doesn’t just come from nostalgia.
4 fresh or frozen (thawed or still frozen) swordfish or monkfish fillets, about an inch thick, 6 ounces each
8 pitted Kalamata olives, cut into small pieces
3 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, diced up
1 teaspoon small capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon pine nuts, or 2 tablespoons roughly chopped Marcona almonds
1 to 2 tablespoons raisins or currants (depending on how sweet you like things)
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, cut in half through the poles, then sliced thinly crosswise
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a small nonstick skillet that also has a lid, toast the pine nuts over low heat until they start to brown. Shake the pan often and watch them carefully, or they’ll burn. Pour the nuts onto a small plate to cool. If the raisins are really dry, put them in a microwave-safe bowl with 3 tablespoons of water, and microwave for 30 to 45 seconds, until the water is hot. Let the raisins soak for about 10 minutes, then drain off the water and reserve it.
After the pine nuts are toasted, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in the skillet. Add the sliced onion with some salt and pepper. When everything sizzles, turn the heat to low, cover the skillet, and cook the onion for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and stir everything up. Continue to cook until the onions are golden, then add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Spread the onion mixture on another plate to cool it slightly. If you’re going to use the toasted bread crumbs, heat another tablespoon of oil in the skillet (don’t bother to clean it first), then add the Panko crumbs and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Heat and stir to toast the crumbs, and then set them aside in a small bowl.
Combine the olives, drained raisins, capers, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, the cooled onion mixture, and the pine nuts or almonds in a small bowl. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, then taste to see if you need more vinegar, salt, or pepper, or a little of the raisin soaking liquid (which will be sweet). Spray a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish fillets with nonstick spray, then lay in the fillets. Sprinkle them with a little salt, then top them with the relish — be sure to cover as much of each fillet as you can. Cover the pan with foil and bake it for 20 minutes (for fresh or thawed fillets, 25 minutes for frozen fillets), then uncover the pan and bake for another 10 minutes. The fish should be nicely cooked through. Let the fish rest for a couple of minutes, then serve, topping each fillet with 1 tablespoon of the toasted bread crumbs if you’d like to use them.