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
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
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
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.