When the name Vincent Price is uttered, visions of the macabre come to mind. This, of course, is the man who chilled audiences to the bone as the Abominable Dr. Phibes. In his 65-year acting career he managed to frighten everyone with his ghoulish character in the House of Wax, creep out Scooby Doo as Vincent Van Ghoul, Mr. Price even gave Adam West’s Batman a run for his money as the villain Egghead. Few people realize that underneath that spooky exterior was an avid art connoisseur, world traveler, master chef and lover of great wines. This blog’s intent is to give readers insight on how Mr. Price helped to grow the California wine industry, from his days as a California wine ambassador to his involvement with the American Institute of Food & Wine. Readers beware! Prepare to meet the man behind so many nightmares of days gone by.
A little history lesson for those of you not to familiar with the California wine industry’s past. During the 1960s and ’70s the California wine industry was really starting to gain some notice. In 1965 Robert Mondavi, a name a few of you may already know, broke away from his family’s estate and founded his very own. This was the first large-scale winery to be established in Napa since before prohibition. Mr. Mondavi started a trend and the number of wineries in Napa continued to grow, as did the region’s reputation. California winemakers were beginning to produce quality wines, but there were still difficulties in marketing them.
Now comes the part that involves everyone’s favorite villain. In 1965 Vincent Price was already a known advertiser for Sear Roebuck fine art collection. He was the man behind their much anticipated The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art. His was a face that could sell, and who wouldn’t listen to that powerful voice? So in lieu of his advertising skills, the California wine industry named Mr. Vincent Price their International Ambassador for California wines. Mr. Price believed “wine can make the simplest meal a banquet.” He became known for hosting extremely elaborate wine tastings on behalf of the California vineyards.
In cooperation with the California wine institute Mr. Price recorded an album in 1977 titled “Wine is Elegance.” This man, known for his spine tingling voice, is oddly soothing narrating this adventure into the vastly unknown world of wine. Mr. Price begins this journey by saying “I think that all of us like a touch of elegance in our lives know and then. I certainly do. I am, of course, talking about having a few friends over for dinner and serving wine with every course. It’s easy and everyone enjoys it so much.” This album was a treasure trove of information for the everyday wine lover. This taught the listener everything from the glasses best suited for different varieties of wine as well as the proper food pairing of these wines. Vincent Price describes the different varieties of California wines as having distinctive personalities. He goes on to compare wines to that of a living thing, changing subtly and maturing with each day that passes. Going as far as to suggest that the listener should experiment with different wines, pairing them with meals and noting the wines that were most enjoyed. Mr. Price believed that California wines have an elegance of their own that enhances every meal. For any readers that may be interested, this fantastic LP is available to enjoy on YouTube as well as several other great sites. It is really an enjoyable and relaxing album to listen to, and possibly a learning experience.
Readers, I hope you enjoyed this short trip into a small part of Vincent Price’s experience with the wine industry. It’s astounding to know so many had a hand in shaping the experience that is California wines. For your enjoyment I have included a recipe from Vincent and Mary Price’s cookbook “A Treasury of Great Recipes.” This is a compilation of hundreds of recipes gathered by the Prices on their adventures around the world. I have taken the liberty of pairing ABC Fine Wine & Spirits’s spectacular Dalliance Unoaked Chardonnay with this recipe. You may notice that the recipe calls for Chablis. Well dear reader here is another small fact for you: During the 1960s the California wine industry was still in the practice of using foreign names to describe their wines. Chablis is actually from the Burgundy region of France and is made up of 100% Chardonnay grape. Even though Mr. Price was referring to California Chardonnays he was still using the original terminology. I hope you have enjoyed this peek into the past and the recipes as I have. In the words of Vincent Price, “The love of wine is a case of constant discovery.”
Now, if you will stay with me a bit longer, here comes the part we have all been waiting for, an aperitif to begin the evening…
In a large Burgundy style glass place: 1 tablespoon Crème de Cassis.
Fill a glass half full of well-chilled Chablis (As with the following recipe, Dalliance Unoaked Chardonnay, a very refreshing Chardonnay from Lake County, California, was substituted for the Chablis.)
This drink must be served icy cold, but it should not have ice in it. Chill your wine and the glasses prior to serving.
*This recipe was acquired at the Restaurant Antoine in New Orleans Louisiana.
Following this delicious start to our meal is the main course of Le Jambon Chaud a la Chablisienne, better known as braised ham with Chablis. Mr. Price and his wife found this recipe at the Hostellerie de la Poste in Avalon, France. This was a very fun meal to make. It is a little time consuming but well worth the wait. Not only is the Dalliance fantastic as part of this main course, it also accompanies this meal beautifully. As a side I would suggest oven roasted red potatoes, a light salad or perhaps a simple risotto.
Le Jambon chaud a la Chablisienne
(Braised ham with Chablis)
Preheat oven to 350
Put a 12-14 pound ready-to-eat ham in a heavy casserole dish with a tight fitting lid. Add 1 ½ cups Chablis. Cover tightly and bake for 1 hour.
While the ham is braising prepare the sauce.
- In saucepan put: 1 ½ cups Chablis, 2 shallots (chopped), 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly for 10-15 minutes or until wine is reduced by half.
- Add: 1 quart beef stock and ¼ cup tomato puree and bring to a boil. Stir in: 4 tablespoons flour mixed to a paste with 4 tablespoons butter and cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain through a sieve into a clean saucepan. Stir in: 1 cup cream and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon and add salt and pepper to taste.
Slice the ham and serve hot with the sauce served separately.
April Bennett, Wine & Spirits Specialist – Inverness