Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wine is like TV: there are no more bad vintages like 1969

 We finished behind what?
My favorite TV critic, Alan Sepinwall, co-authored a new book purporting to rank the top 100 TV shows of all time. It's easy to nitpick: Cheers above Breaking Bad? But the rankings are theirs, not mine, and this is a great opportunity to reintroduce the best column I've ever read about people who bitch about Top 100 lists like this.

We are living in the best era ever for American television, and the works in progress listed in the back of the book, not ranked because their stories haven't finished, constitute a better "vintage" of television than any previous year.

That got me to thinking about wine. People of a certain age remember printed vintage charts that oenophiles carried in their wallets. Until about 20 years ago, most wine lovers thought about a vintage mainly by how good or bad it was in Bordeaux. That was a measure of how important Bordeaux was in the wine world, but also of how bad a bad vintage in Bordeaux could be: The wines were actually unpleasant to drink. The same was true in Burgundy. It wasn't until Napa Valley came to prominence in the 1990s that the world discovered a great wine region where a "bad" vintage didn't mean terrible wines.

Nowadays, though, there simply is not a bad vintage for wine as a whole.

Individual wine regions have off years, but improvements in farming have made wines from those vintages, for the most part, simply less great. And if Burgundy has a year of small yields, there's Oregon or Central Otago. If Bordeaux gets rain at harvest, there's Coonawarra or Walla Walla.

Using the bad vintage approach, TV (The Book) gives me the chance to talk about the worst vintage ever for American TV: 1969-70.

Star Trek had just concluded its five year mission in three years. Andy Griffith had left The Andy Griffith Show and the replacement Mayberry RFD was the season's 4th rated show because there wasn't anything better.

I thought I ordered the '70. Bones! Check that bottle! Quickly, man!
In 1969-70, the only shows from the Seitz-Sepinwall Top 100 pantheon to air were Dragnet, in its tired final season, and Gunsmoke, which was not going strong in its 15th season of 20. The book also mentions in its "A Certain Regard" section for also-rans a show called Julia, which was important because it starred black actress Diahann Carroll, a groundbreaking move, but which the authors call "nearly unwatchable."

You know what? 1969 was also a bad year for wine.

For Bordeaux, it was awful: there were worse vintages before, but there has not been such a bad vintage since. It was actually a pretty good year in Burgundy, though those wines may now be long in the tooth. The following year, though, was a world-famous vintage. Bordeaux had a great vintage in 1970; 1970 Ports are prized today; Burgundy had a solid year.

And 1970's new fall TV season saw the premier of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the quality one-shot series The Bold Ones: The Senator (which I had not heard of before reading the book).

About this wine, I just have this one little question ...
And a lot of good things were bubbling in development: All in the Family, Columbo, MASH and The Bob Newhart Show would all premier in the next two years, and would give viewers quality entertainment for the rest of the decade. Stephen Spielberg came on the scene in 1971 with "Duel," a TV movie that is among his best work; it competed for Emmys with "Brian's Song," still one of the best sports movies ever made.

Now that there are so many channels, we'll never see a bad TV vintage like 1969-70 again.

The same is true for wine: no matter what happens in Northern Europe, we'll always have North America and the Southern Hemisphere. Don't let anyone kid you about the great prices they paid back in the day to fill their cellar: We are living in the best of times.

This post was partly an excuse to write about TV (The Book) to encourage you to buy it and reward Sepinwall for the work he did on his blog every week. Unfortunately his employer was just purchased by a rather crappy site called Uproxx, so to enjoy his work you should order the book here.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


guren said...

>People of a certain age remember printed vintage charts that oenophiles carried in their wallets.

I am of a certain age and I am one of those oenophiles. I likely got my vintage charts from Wine Spectator back then.

Also, thanks for the reminder about Mr. Sepinwall's book. I will order it the next time I make a purchase from Amazon.

Bob Henry said...


Wine Spectator continues in "tip in" to their perfect bound magazine the wallet/purse vintage chart.

(May the first or second issue of the new year?)

~~ Bob

Bob Henry said...

Another awful vintage is 1972.

I can still remember tasting my first Beaulieu Vineyard "Georges de Latour" Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvigon from that winery. A 1972 bottling. Ugh! Unrelentingly tart and tannic and devoid of any pleasure.

A vintage so bad globally that Robert Parker doesn't even list it in his vintage chart:


Erratum to above comment:

(MayBE the first or second issue of the new year?)

Bob Henry said...

The CEO of F/X Network opined about "peak TV":

From the Wall Street Journal "CMO Today" Blog
(Aug 10, 2015):

"FX Networks Chief Warns of Programming Glut"

Link: http://blogs.wsj.com/cmo/2015/08/10/fx-networks-president-said-america-is-nearing-peak-tv/

As did the Chairman and CEO of HBO:

From the Wall Street Journal Online Video
(October 25, 2016):

"Have We Reached 'Peak TV'?"

Link: http://www.wsj.com/video/have-we-reached-peak-tv/DC9D18AF-4750-4AB6-AA4B-E1D2D1B54E82.html