Thursday, August 19, 2021

By the Bottle: Eric Asimov

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

  I first met Eric in Napa Valley, California. Since then, we’ve traveled, supped and opened a bottle or two in New York City, Austin, Texas and Sicily. Eric has the distinction of being one of the most influential wine critics today, a position he doesn’t take lightly (nor would he probably admit to it). Nonetheless, it is what it is. He’s riding that tiger. Let’s jump on board with him and take a spin, shall we?

What wines do you have standing up right now?

Most of the time, what I’m planning to drink is a function of what I’m planning to write about. I will keep that private other than to say I’ve just enjoyed some excellent bottles for my Wine School unit on dark rosés.

What’s the last great wine you drank?

I prefer to think of “greatness” in terms of context, expectations and fulfillment rather than on some universal scale in which the great wines are profound examples of historic terroirs or estates. With that in mind I would say a Château de Béru Chablis Montserre 2018 was a great wine. I love Chablis, though I’m not a particularly a fan of the 2018 vintage. Nonetheless, this wine was beautiful, intense in the way of the vintage yet full of characteristic Chablis minerality rather than fruitiness, pure and unmediated. I loved it.

Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time?

I can’t think of any sorts of wine, though I can think of plenty of legendary bottles that I’ve never had, and probably never will. Cheval Blanc 1947, for one.  

Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

With great friends and family, outdoors, with wonderful food. The particulars don’t matter.

What’s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

I don’t keep secrets. If I like a wine I’ve posted or written about it.

What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21?

I don’t advocate withholding any wine until 21 but everybody should experience the joy of bubbles at a relatively early age.

What wine should nobody drink until the age of 40?

I also don’t advocate withholding any wines ever from adults. But I would advise after age 40 revisiting whatever biases you might have.

Who in wine — winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors — active today do you admire most?

I most admire the many winemakers who are constant to their personal vision, even in the face of opposition – critics or community who tell them they are wrong or market metrics indicating other styles or grapes are more popular. These people see themselves working within cultural or stylistic traditions that they value more than the year-to-year swings in fashion. They tend to work humbly, in harmony with the land rather than asserting control. They are the ones producing wines that transcend the notion of a beverage, who are anchored in history and culture. Beyond production, this applies as well to retailers, sommeliers, writers and others who stick to their points of view, who are willing to debate and to make their cases but ultimately understand that enjoying wine is not a competition nor a means for asserting the size of one’s ego.

Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

Guilt has nothing to do with it, nor does shame.


Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

I don’t think wine alone has brought me closer to another person, but wine absolutely has a role to play in fostering friendship, community and intimacy.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

This goes back a couple of years, but I was surprised to learn that Heitz routinely blocks malolactic fermentation in its red wines.

What moves you most in a wine?

Wines that are cultural expressions, regardless of how modest or profound they might be. In fact, sometimes the more modest wines are more moving because it’s clear the producer has sacrificed financially in order to adhere to tradition. That said, I find great older bottles particularly moving, particularly when the wine is from a vintage of historical or personal significance. 

Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?

I love wines that combine delicacy with intensity and that go well with food. I’m not impressed by power or impact. I probably drink more whites than reds simply because of what I tend to cook, but that’s no indication of preference.

How do you organize your wines?

Haphazardly, wherever I can find room.

What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

Retsina? I have a few good bottles. I do have a lot of Chianti Classico, reds from the Northern Rhône, riesling, Burgundy, Barolo, sherry and Champagne. Also, chenin blanc. My tastes are diverse, and I regularly drink a wide variety of wines, but the bottles I keep to age tend to be more classic. I don’t know if that’s surprising or not.  

What’s the best wine you’ve ever received as a gift?

Once while I was on a book tour in Birmingham, Ala., a local wine club chipped in with a case of wines from their collections to thank me for coming. I’ve never received a gift like that, before or since, just for showing up. I was beyond touched.

How have your drinking tastes changed over time?

My tastes changed a lot in my 20s and 30s, not a whole lot since then, at least, I don’t think they have. I try to be open minded, but I’m pretty confident in what I like and don’t like.

You’re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

Robert Mondavi, Aubert de Villaine, Lulu Peyraud. I have a lot of questions for these people!

What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

I am lucky enough to occupy a privileged position in wine with remarkable access. Wines that I would like to try but have not had a chance to drink tend to be ultra-rare or expensive. No embarrassment there. If there are more readily available wines that I ought to have tried and have not simply because I don’t know about them, I guess that would be embarrassing.

What do you plan to drink next?

Dinner tonight will be Sicilian-style pesto. I will finish a wonderful Luis Seabra Granito Vinho Verde that I opened last night, which will go well with the pesto. Then, I guess, I better find something else.

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Dave said...

I appreciate the humility expressed by one of the world's best-known wine writers. Those whose energy emanates from passion and curiosity rather than ego are people I want in my circle! How about you???

Alfonso Cevola said...

I agree, Dave. Thanks for reading along and taking the ride with us.

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