Alexis Bespaloff

Signet book of wineI was nineteen and just returned from a semester studying in Europe. Culinarily reborn, I now considered myself quite the sophisticate. As a self-assured wine expert, I went to the liquor store to buy a few bottles to impress my friends. Much to my dismay, not a label or name did I recognize. The wines that had so impressed me were everyday wines: pitchers of Edelzwicker in Alsace, Passe tout grains in Burgundy and Lord know what in Paris. Being on a hitchhikers budget, I was not dining at Tallivent or drinking La Tache.

As simple as these wines were, they somehow captivated my imagination and are why I am deeply involved with wine to this day. I wanted to know more, and in 1973 there were few resources available. By sheer chance, I picked up a copy of The New Signet Book of Wine by Alexis Bespaloff. I could not have been luckier for even today, The New Signet Book of Wine remains the best introduction to the world of wine ever published.

Today, The New York Times reported the passing of Alexis Bespaloff, who has left a legacy of millions of wine lovers to whom he introduced the wonderful pleasures of wine and food. While his New Signet Book of Wine provided the primer for the would-be wine lover, his Fireside Book of Wine provided insights into the emotional and intellectual pull that raises wine beyond a mere alcoholic beverage.

What raised The New Signet Book of Wine to such a level that it is still the best introductory wine book out there is that it was first and foremost a literary work that told a story. Unlike the “how to” and reference style books of today it conveyed both knowledge and passion for wine. It actually made you understand why, not only how.

It was with sadness I heard of the death of this man whom, although I never met him, shaped my life so much. It also made me recall with a tinge of sorrow that wide eyed innocence that I had for wine those many years ago.

Thank you Alexis from all of us.