To me it was a significant coming of age event. That first taste of Blue Nun or Black Tower or the wine we saw staring at us from the shelf today, Mateus Rose.
“Should we buy a bottle?”, said Don Day’s Wife.
“I’d kind of like to,” said Don Day, “just to see how bad it is.”
“Let’s do it,” said Don Day’s Wife. “I’ll bet we’ve spent 129 pesos on worse wines.”
Yes, it’s still around. Mateus Rose. There on the shelves at La Europea. That rite of passage wine. At least for 70-somethings like me.
I’m not sure if it was my first ever wine. But I think it was. I know I was well into my drinking life when I first tasted it. I’m sure I’d already lifted rum and coke and rye and ginger and gin and tonic and vodka and orange and a few hundred beers. I might have even been drinking legally when I had my first glass (or was it straight from the bottle?) of Mateus.
I can’t remember exactly what it tasted like. I know it was sweet but, at least in those days, not too sweet. I think of strawberries when I think of the taste. And the little fizz. I’ll never forget the fizz. Perfect when you were singing along to Neil Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rosie.
Then there was the distinctive bottle. Inspired by the hip flasks carried by WWI soldiers I was told. How many of those millions of sales that made it the world’s best selling wine were the result of that delightfully curved bottle. And how many of those bottles ended up as a candleholder. I remember the ones in a restaurant in Toronto’s Kensington Market covered in so much wax you could no longer see the classy and classic label.
Jimi Hendrix, as evidenced by one of the more iconic photos of him drank it straight out of the bottle. You can see it in the home of the professor played by Donald Sutherland in Animal House. You can hear about it when Elton John sings “I can get juiced on Mateus and just hang loose.”
Pope Paul VI was seen sipping Mateus on his flight to the United Nations.
When Frontier Airlines wanted to illustrate the fine food served on their airline, guess which wine they showed on the tray. And I think Frontier is still flying.
Then there’s the story of the Queen of England who, back in the sixties, when she was not very pleased with the wine choices at the Savoy, required the hotel manager to send out for a bottle of Mateus.
Or much more recently, when the U.S. were unsuccessful in their search for weapons of mass destruction in Bagdad but did find a stockpile of something that had done minor destruction to a few heads over the years. Yes, there in the palace was case upon case of Mateus.
Most people even loved the way the wine was pronounced. Ma toose. It was a nice word to say. But not to me. To me it was an embarrassment. For I had been to Portugal and I had learned that it was pronounced Ma tey us. So I used to flaunt my worldliness by correcting people. Until one day Sogrape, the maker of the wine, launched a radio campaign and decided that when in the colonies do as the colonists do and called it Ma toose causing most of my friends to change the name that they called me.
Don Day’s Wife and I decided to pair our first bottle of Mateus in 30 years with the same thing we usually paired it with back in the sixties. Absolutely nothing. Except friends.
The bottle is similar but not the same as it used to be. As on a few things, the curves aren’t quite as pronounced, not quite as sensuous. The elegant label has been changed as well and not for the better. And, though I have no problem with metal screw tops, I have a problem with the one on the neck of a bottle of Mateus. It just isn’t right.
And how did it taste I’m sure you’re wondering. Well I hope you’re wondering.
I gave my friend Richard a glass. His first comment, “It tastes better than it used to.” And then, “Look at me I’m slurping it back.”
There’s still sweetness but we didn’t think as much as there used to be. And the dominant flavor? Don Day’s Wife said strawberry. Our friend Lorain said raspberry. Richard said pomegranate. And I thought both strawberry and raspberry. And I also thought what a perfect wine to introduce people to the joys of wine. Deja vu all over again in the words of Yogi.
And the fizz was still there. Frizzante is what they used to call it in Portugal. It’s almost impossible not to swish the wine around in your mouth like we used to with Lavoris and Listerene. And there’s a certain similarity to that freshness you feel.
I wondered what grapes went into Mateus so I went to the website of Sogrape, the company that makes it. But they don’t treat the wine any more seriously than we did. It caters not to oenologists but to hedonists which I think is what we wanted to be when we first started drinking Mateus. And they’re all photographed on beaches which I think is where we wanted to be when we first drank Mateus.
The one thing I learned from the website is that, since 1942, when Fernando Van Zeller Guedes created the brand, more than a billion labels have been glued to a flask-shaped bottle. I think that’s almost reason enough on its own to consider buying my second bottle in the last 30 years and saying, “I’ll drink to that.”
If they haven’t sold out, you’ll find Mateus Rose at La Europea, Canal #13 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.