The Americans: Wine, Food & the Cold War

Writers get inspiration from all different sources. As a wine writer my inspiration tends to come from media samples, wine events, travel, special occasions and at times my ever day life. I suppose this article is an everyday life inspiration. I was working out recently and listening to my tunes when a song came on I had not heard in a while. It is one of my favorite covers and it got me thinking about one of my favorite television shows. At that moment the lightbulb over my head lit up and this article was born.

Robert Mondavi Cab

The Americans is a highly suspenseful television show that centers around the life of married Soviet spies living undercover in the US during the Cold War. Their marriage is complex because it was arranged yet they care for each other; however, as spies they live double, triple and at times quadruple lives hiding in plain sight. The couple has two teenage children who are very American and have no idea their parents true identity. Their next door neighbor is an FBI agent who works on the Soviet spy task force, all along befriending the couple without knowing their true identity. The show is complicated, fast-paced, suspenseful and very well acted. It is an extremely popular show and if you are not watching it I highly recommend you catch up on seasons 1-3 and add it to your weekly must watch list. The Americans airs on Wednesdays at 9pm CST on FX.

The Americans

Take a look at the Season 3 Promo Trailer of The Americans:

My efforts to write a 1980’s Cold War article featuring The Americans took me to the internet to find the right wine. As you watch the show you will see wine being enjoyed in many different settings, even in a Soviet prison. My first endeavor was to research Russian wines. Though I was able to find a variety of wines grown from Russian grapes and produced in Russia I was unable to find any Russian wines exported to the United States. Very well, the couples poses as Americans anyway so what about popular American wines in the 80’s? That was an easy question to answer: Napa Valley. The winery that presented itself again and again as producing wines enjoyed by the everyday consumer was Robert Mondavi Winery. Some popular varietals during the 1980’s were White Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. I set out to find a wine that would well represent the era. At this point in The Americans Leonid Brezhev has just died so the year is 1982. I began my search for wines California wines from 1982. I was not interested in taking the time to purchase a bottle through auction; rather, I needed to acquire the wine and get this article written in a timely manner. As I moved through the 80’s it was not until I reached 1987 that I was able to find a wine that a wine merchant actually had in stock. The Cold War was still alive and well in 1987 so I purchased that bottle and here is my review of a wine that could have been enjoyed by Soviet spies hiding in plain sight in America.

Robert Mondavi Cab4Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley 1987 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: This 100% unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon that was a bit past its time. It poured a cloudy garnet with brown and orange highlights into the glass and opened with soft aromas of berries and earthiness. This 28 year old wine was once a vibrant example of a beautiful Napa Valley Cab; however, those days were in its past. It lacked its original body and deep, round structure, leaving a shell of its former self. On the palate it was flat with a bitter finish; however, it was not totally without life.  It delivered soft flavors of fruit with smoked cedar, tobacco, and a touch of dusty earth; ending with mellow flavors of anise and coffee. This wine was certainly drinkable but nowhere near its former glory. It simply lacked balance. Upon opening the cork disintegrated; I gently decanted it, giving it a couple hours to open up before we enjoyed drinking it. This was not a wine I had in my cellar; rather, as I said above I recently purchased this wine so I really do not know the condition it had been stored or the journeys it made before reaching my home. Nevertheless, a wine past its prime is not always bad and this wine was not bad, it simply did not live up the beauty I know it once had! Please do not let this disway you from seeking out older wines; particularly from Robert Mondavi. Buying a 28 year old wine online is a crap shoot; a risk I was willing to take, perhaps next time I will buy one from the 90’s and see how it is holding up.

Robert Mondavi Cab3

To keep with the 80’s theme I did some research on what Americans were eating during the Cold War. Top dinner meals include Spaghetti, Meatloaf, Steak, Burgers, and various casseroles. Perfect, I decided upon the classic casserole so many of us grew up on: Tuna Casserole. It was a simple, crowd pleasing meal that my family actually enjoyed. You can find the recipe I used here; I substituted Barilla protein rich pasta as well as low fat milk and cream of mushroom soup. Typically Tuna Casserole would NOT be the meal I would pair with an iconic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; however, I am working on a theme here.




From the Robert Mondavi Winery web site:

Robert Mondavi winery logoRobert Mondavi established his namesake winery in 1966 with a vision to create Napa Valley wines that would stand in the company of the world’s finest.  He chose To Kalon Vineyard in the heart of the Napa Valley as the home for Robert Mondavi Winery. This first-growth vineyard, located in Oakville, California, is renowned for producing some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the world. Mr. Mondavi believed that wines should reflect their origins, that they are the product of the soil, the climate, and the careful stewardship of those precious resources. He also believed in combining the newest techniques and technology with time-honored winemaking traditions. The first vintage (1966) of Robert Mondavi Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon is released. A shot heard throughout the Valley, it would inspire the waves of pioneers to follow. In time, the path Robert Mondavi cleared would lead to the creation of some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs in the world. Our winemaking and vineyard teams are proud to carry on our founder’s mandate to always strive higher, to pursue Robert Mondavi’s goal of excellence with the same passion and innovative spirit, moving forward with programs that break barriers and open new frontiers. Leading this initiative is Genevieve Janssens, Director of Winemaking. Genevieve, whose relationship with the winery began in 1978, was selected Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2010.

My Song Selection: The song I have chosen to pair with this article was the inspiration for the entire article, War Pigs by Cake. I am sure many of you Black Sabbath fans will frown on my selection of the Cake cover; however, I am a sucker for a good cover and a good cover this is (say that in a Yoda voice). Furthermore, the Cake cover lends itself more to a Cold War scenario of government power and manipulation. On another note, the song is great for an indoor cycling class power hill climb!

I hope this article has inspired you to begin watching The Americans if you don’t already and to pick up a bottle of Mondavi wine, there is a wide selection to choose from and something for everyone at every price point.

Re-enact your own 1980’s Cold War dinner while watching The Americans with Mondavi wine and let me know what song you would pair with it. Cheers!



13 responses to “The Americans: Wine, Food & the Cold War”

  1. Wine was never really produced in Russia – it was made in the parts of the former USSR, such as Georgia and Moldova, and Port/Muscat style wines where successfully made in Crimea. Sparkling wines where the only exception but even those where mostly produced outside of Russia in Belarus, Latvia and few others. You could actually look for Georgian wines – they should be somewhat available and quite enjoyable – and that would greatly represent the wine culture of the old days.
    Also, I’m not watching The Americans (my wife does), so I can’t exactly comment on the content of the series, but you should understand that in former USSR the culture of wine appreciation was largely non-existent, and if it was, it was strictly limited to the “privileged” level of society. Wine in prison? That is a wild phantasy…

    • Most of the wine enjoyed in The Americans is by the Soviets trying to blend it; however, the wine served with a nice meal in prison is done either as a reward for obtaining information or as a manipulative tool to control the prisoner. It works in the show but is always done within the context of the KGB Elite. It is a great show; glad your wife enjoys it.

    • I want to quickly follow up with two important points you made: first, yes I do need to try Georgian wines and I will some time this year; two, you are correct about the show being a fantasy. It is a fictional television drama woven around historical events but it is not real; therefore, the writers have artistic license to create and embellish, creating a lot of tension and drama. It is a fun show to watch but not meant to be taken literally. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Cheers!

  2. I love how inspiration just pops in your head. I have to say as a workout junkie I don’t think it was coincidence that it happened while working out- all that extra oxygen! Mike and I love the Americans too! Such a great show. After the first season it wasn’t going to be renewed and Mike was so upset, but I guess there was an uproar and they brought it back.

  3. I did the most awkward first read of your post to make there were no spoilers – I woefully behind on Season 3! This was such a fun post. I love the theme and food and wine pairings. As an 80s baby I grew up on tuna casserole, we ate it at least once a week with plain potato chips on top for a treat.. It is still one of my favorite comfort foods. Song selection would have to be Bon Jovi Living on a Pray for the complicated love story between Elizabeth and Philip. And what’s an 80s party without Bon Jovi?! Great post Michelle!

    • You are so funny. I would not publish any spoilers but I will say season 3 is intense! Funny thing about Bon Jovi, I saw them in 1987 (year of the wine) on the Slippery When Wet Tour! Ha! I was a senior in high school. Great song selection! Cheers Meaghan!

  4. The Americans is one of my FAVORITE shows!! I love the 80s rainbow sweaters and puffy jackets!! But we’re only halfway through season 2, so I’m reading this with blinders on! Cheers!!

  5. I rarely decant older wines, particularly for that long—they just can’t handle it. How soon after it arrived did you drink it? There is no doubt that it likely had a bunch of sediment and the cloudiness you experienced could have been just that—sediment that had re-integrated with the wine due to the agitation from shipping. Older wines need a bit of time to recover from the journey—I give them at least two weeks in a cool dark space before I even dream of opening them (usually it is much closer to a year!). Then, if it is a wine that likely had some sediment, I try to stand it upright at least 24 hours before I am going to drink it to give that sediment some time to make its way to the bottom of the bottle. I might open it an hour beforehand (and I usually use an Ah-So) and pour just a bit out to taste and allow a little oxygen into the bottle (this is called the Andouze method, by the way). That first taste is almost always the best, though, so I usually pour right after opening.

    Sorry for the long response, but most old wines like this do not need a decanting, in fact quite the opposite….

    • Thank you Jeff. I stored the wine in my wine refrigerator for 4 weeks to allow it to rest before opening it. Once I took it out I did let it stand upright for 30 mins because I could see the sediment. My mistake was the decant; thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. I still think it was past its prime and like I said I have no knowledge of the condition it was kept before I received it. I appreciate your comments and guidance; I am not accustomed to ordering such old wines. I will try again. Again recommended retailers? Thanks.

  6. Oooh I am so intrigued now about The Americans, I hope I can find it online somewhere to catch up. I love this post about the 80s, I had so much fun during that decade! Great post, Michelle!

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