Saturday, September 24, 2016

Remembering my friend Alexis

Death of wine guru resonates worldwide

Las Cruces Sun-News (NM) - Friday, April 28, 2006
Author/Byline: S. Derrickson Moore, Las Cruces Sun-News
Section: A Section
Page: 1A
Sun-News reporter

The death of renowned wine expert and writer Alexis Bespaloff of Las Cruces has generated an "overwhelming and touching" international response, his widow Cecilia Lewis said Thursday.

Articles and tributes have appeared in The New York Times, The London Times and other newspapers and publications around the world following his death April 22 at MountainView Regional Medical Center after a long battle with cancer.

He was 71.

"I've had over 400 phone calls from all over the world, with an outpouring of love from his friends," Lewis said. "People are breaking down and crying over the phone.

Writers from The Los Angeles Times and magazines from England and France and Italy have called and are planning pieces, too."

Deemed "the dean of wine writers" by Arthur "The Food Maven" Schwartz, Bespaloff authored some of the best-selling wine guides of all time With millions of copies of his works in print, he ranked as one of the world's most-read wine experts.

From 1972 to 1996, as New York Magazine's celebrated wine columnist, he educated and influenced the tastes of American's largest and most sophisticated city of connoisseurs.

"The Signet Book of Wine" became a bestseller, going through 17 printings. He went on to write several more books, including "Alexis Bespaloff's Complete Guide to Wine" and "Alexis Bespaloff's Guide to Inexpensive Wines." He revised Frank Schoonmaker's classic "Encyclopedia of Wines" and researched and edited "The Fireside Book of Wine," an anthology of poems, essays and quotes from famous wine lovers.

He wrote columns for Elle, The Wine Enthusiast and Appellation/Wine Country Living and numerous magazine articles on wine and wine regions for Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, Harper's Bazaar and House Beautiful. A special publication, his "Family Circle Guide to Wine," sold more than 500,000 copies.

In a piece in Monday's New York Times, Frank J. Prial quoted from a 2004 Sun-News interview in which Bespaloff opined that he lived in the "best of times" for wine lovers: "It's not unusual for connoisseurs to look back with regret at having missed the golden age of their particular interest the Elizabethan age for poetry, perhaps, the 17th century for Dutch painting, or the heyday of Bach or Mozart when quality, variety and innovation combined to produce exciting and remarkable works. For enophiles, this is the golden age, and there's every reason to predict that the next millennium will enable this specialized world to shine even more brightly," Bespaloff said.

Writers in The New York Times and The London Times recalled a now-famous Bespaloff telephone-answering machine message: "I cannot take your call right now, but if it's an emergency, white with fish and red with meat."

Bespaloff and his wife moved to Las Cruces in 1995.

At private memorial services Thursday, friends talked about Bespaloff's wit and kindness.

"He was a kind, wonderful man," said Heather Pollard, who hosted the memorial with her husband, Warren, as a tribute, she said, "to a life well lived; Alexis had so many friends here who loved him."

Lewis said her late husband "was absolutely unique. He was a modest man and he knew he had a lot of old and loyal friends, but I think he would have been amazed by this outpouring. There was not a drop of malice in him. He had an acerbic wit, which he could have put to unkind use, but he was always kind and affectionate and people loved him."

Lewis said she was especially touched by an article by London writer Jancis Robinson who called Bespaloff "one of the most cosmopolitan Americans with a detailed knowledge of many of the arts and particularly who was who in the worlds of food and wine ... In his written work, most notably the frequently updated Signet Book of Wine, he was punctilious in his fact-checking, but in conversation, the wry smile, vaguely reminiscent of Harpo Marx, was paramount. His favorite bit of wine advice was 'try not to let your lips touch the brown paper bag.' And when still in New York he'd say, 'Whenever someone says they wonder what this wine will be like in 10 years' time, I say, just let me keep it in my apartment for a couple of days.'"

Robinson is an adviser to Queen Elizabeth, Lewis said, "and she chose the wines for the wedding of Charles and Camilla. She knows her stuff. I've been so touched by people who have let me know how much they cared about Alexis."

Bespaloff was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1934. His family moved to Belgium, then Brazil and settled in New York City on the eve of World War II. He graduated from Amherst College and attended Harvard University Business School. Before beginning his best-selling writing career, he worked as representative for a wine importer and as a publicist for Simon & Schuster, handling promotions for "Catch 22" author Joseph Heller and other noted writers.

In a 2004 Sun-News interview, Bespaloff shared advice on what to serve with chile and Mexican and Southwestern cuisine: "With spicy foods in general, you're better off with cold beer. You might try a crisp, light white wine, but it's silly to have expensive wine with really spicy food when you can't really taste it. What's important here is the tactile experience and temperature, like the cold bubbles in beer and champagne."

As a English literature major at Amherst College, he said, "it never occurred to me that I would end up as a professional wino."

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Alexis Bespaloff (1934-2006)

Bespaloff highlights

* Born: 1934 in Bucharest, Romania

* Married: Photographer, China scholar and former Mary Quant and Revlon model Cecilia Lewis. After moving to Las Cruces in 1995, the pair traveled together on magazine assignments to the Napa Valley, northern Portugal, the Tokay vineyards of Hungary, Bordeaux, the Loire and Brittany in France.

* New York Magazine Wine Columnist: 1972 to 1996

* Wine columnist for: Elle, The Wine Enthusiast, Appellation/Wine Country Living and Penthouse Magazine

* Contributing writer: Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, Harper's Bazaar and House Beautiful

Mug of Bespaloff

Books by Bespaloff

"Signet Book of Wine" (Signet)

"Family Circle Guide to Wine"

"Alexis Bespaloff's New Signet Book of Wine" (Signet)

"Alexis Bespaloff's Complete Guide to Wine" (Signet)

"Alexis Bespaloff's Guide to Inexpensive Wines" (Simon & Schuster)

"Alexis Bespaloff's Guide to Inexpensive Wines, Revised" (Fireside)

"Alexis Bespaloff's Guide to Inexpensive Wines" (Pocket Book)

"The Fireside Book of Wine: An Anthology for Wine Drinkers" (Fireside)

"The New Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine/Completely Revised by Alexis Bespaloff" (William Morrow & Co.)

In New Mexico: He hosted a wine tasting and wine country photo exhibit at Glenn Cutter Gallery in Las Cruces and served as a moderator at a champagne seminar at the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Festival.
Record Number: lcs30227902
Copyright (c) Las Cruces Sun-News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.

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