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Alexis Bespaloff: an obituary

Alexis Bespaloff, one of America’s principal wine writers for three decades, died of cancer on April 22 at his home in Los Cruces, New Mexico, at 71.

Bespaloff’s reputation as an influential critic was established by his first book, the 1m-selling Signet Book of Wine in 1971.

‘Signet’ was routinely visible next to cash registers in many wine shops at a time when American merchants were just learning to take fine wine seriously.

Alexis Bespaloff’s Guide to Inexpensive Wine was published in 1973, and an anthology of wine writing, The Fireside Book of Wine, appeared in 1977. Bespaloff’s revised and updated version of a 1964 book, The Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine came out in 1988.

Among general readers, Bespaloff (born Jacques Alexis Bespaloff in Romania) was perhaps best-known for his wine column in New York Magazine, which was published from 1972 until 1996. At one time or another, Bespaloff’s articles appeared in such magazines as Connoisseur, Elle, Food & Wine, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, House & Garden, Penthouse, Travel & Leisure and Wine Enthusiast.

The French-speaking Bespaloff represented a New York importer in Bordeaux and worked briefly for the Manhattan merchant Sherry-Lehmann before deciding to become a wine writer. He was as well-known in the French and British wine trades for his wit as for his expertise.

Bespaloff felt that luckily his moment came at the right time. As he declared in a 2004 interview: ‘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. For oenophiles, this is the golden age, and there is every reason to predict that the next millennium will enable this specialized world to shine even more brightly.’

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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