Wine wisdom, Gerald Asher style

Gerald Asher is a font of wine wisdom, anecdotes and opinions. I met him at this year’s Wine Writers Symposium, and when the opportunity came to interview him about the release of his wonderful now book “A Vineyard in My Glass,” I pounced.

Of course I ended up with waaaaaay more material than I could use in this week’s Liquid Assets column, so here are some Asher “leftovers.”

• On whether more wine consumers are starting to “get” the notion of terroir:

“It all depends. There are people who are trying to explain what terroir means. By terroir, I mean the style of the wine and its connection to where it comes from  … not the soil, although there is a relationship. There really is something that makes Burgundy taste different from Bordeaux. And within those there are pauses that make the wine taste as it does.

“I don’t know if people are getting the information that they need. I’m not sure they’re interested. And most writers don’t have the space to provide that information. You can say something about how it’s as good as it is and special as it is because of where it comes from.

“I have been very lucky. In all those years I was writing for Gourmet I could spread from 2,500 to even 4,000 words. Without being cramped, I could capture what makes the wine special. Not many people have the luxury to do that.

“I also believe that there are not very many consumers who, without prodding, will wake up and say ” ‘it’s time I went to a class on terroir.’ ”

• On young consumers in three countries:

“England is a bit different. There are people who drink wine and take account of it, but England is dominated by sales through the supermarket chains, and everything is based on price and nothing sells if it’s over 5 pounds, and at that price you can’t get wine with character.

“It astonished me in France the number of people who go to wine tasting groups. Bearing in wine that their parents accepted wine, but didn’t vary it very much. If they came from certain part of the country, every year they ordered a half-dozen cases from there.

“But what I found is that the children are very interested in other regions. A lot ask me about specific growers. They’re really interested.

“I think Americans do it to a degree.”

• On improvements in wine quality:

“One area that has seen big progress, although it might not sound like it, but as the Asian market has grown for luxury wines “¦ as these spectacular prices have attached themselves to a certain groups of wine and taken them out of reach of people who simply want a special bottle for a birthday or anniversary or Christmas, they’re not going to spend several hundred dollars, so they look at the level below.

“But now all the ones below have been sucked up in quality. A $25 wine becomes $35, so the winery now can be more selective in picking, do a triage table [left] and take other steps that have helped raise the quality.”

On whether there are more where he came from:

“I was very lucky. Like wine, I’m the product of certain circumstances. My family was different from other families. We did have a real interest in eating properly.

“Then my primary school happened to be one that laid great emphasis on skills that included writing and grammar; we understood how language works. When I went to the equivalent of high school, it was one that specialized in modern languages. We had to do two modern languages, so I learned French and Spanish at an early age, and got a good foundation in physics and chemistry. I later learned Italian and German.

“So when I went to these countries, they could talk to me in their own language. As you know when you speak their language, they regard you as a paisano. So it’s not just Q & A, you’re actually talking. They ask if you’re free for lunch because they’re comfortable talking to you.”

4 Responses

  1. Great article, Bill. Asher is one in a million, and the guy I return to time and time again when I need a little realization of why we love the wine world so much. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Bill Ward

    I could have talked to him for days. He’s a true treasure, and every turn of the conversation brings another pearl of wisdom.

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