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Wine Coolers: Not wine. Not cool.

- Updated

As a child of the ’80s, I have a natural affinity for ’80s nostalgia and throw backs: The Transformers, Rubik’s cubes, Star Wars toys…you know things from commercials. That’s how the ’80s were experienced by kids. And even though I never enjoyed a drop of alcohol in that glorious decade, I found myself thinking about those Bartles & Jaymes commercials with the two old guys, wondering what happened to wine coolers?

An era stamped out by excise tax
What happened to wine coolers of the 1980s?


What’s a wine cooler?

bartles & jaymes 1980s wine cooler ad
The wine cooler was a play on the spritzer, a drink diluted with carbonated water to fill more glasses and feel more refreshing. The original homemade wine cooler was made from a light white wine (try a dry chardonnay or a pinot grigio) and a lemon-lime soda like 7Up.
In the ’80s, commercial wine coolers starting hitting the markets with zany flavors like apple, citrus, and berry. These were all actual blends of (cheap, industrial) white wine, water, and flavors that were usually put out by subsidiaries of major wine houses.

Zima killed the wine cooler

Actually…it was taxation. In January 1991, Congress quintupled the excise tax on wine from $.17/gallon to $1.07/gallon. This made wine blending bad business and ushered in the era of the malt beverage. Zima and Smirnoff Ice reigned supreme, and major wine cooler producers like Boones Farm and Bartles & Jaymes switched to malt beverage recipes. Without the need to balance with the white wine, flavors became even more crazy. Sour watermelon? Woooooooo!

Reclaim the cooler

We're a little afraid of the color of 'Sour Watermelon' too..

An actual wine cooler can be a refreshing drink for an outdoor summer party or barbeque. Use your wine pairing wisdom to mix carbonated water, white wine and juices of your choice to go with your dish or just relax in the sun. There are some incredible sodas on the market now, like Dry Soda, that can make a terrific wine cooler.

Here is my recipe for the new, delicious wine cooler:

  • 4oz Pinot Grigio or another white w/ racy acidity
  • 6oz Dry Cucumber Soda
  • 2oz sparkling apple juice
  • ice cubes
  • cucumber discs to garnish

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AboutChad Wasser

I live in Seattle, where I touch really fragile things with kid gloves for a living.

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