Frank Prial, whose widely syndicated wine column in The New York Times helped shape the perception, understanding, and acceptance of wine for many Americans over several decades, has died aged 82.
[image: Georgetown University]
Prial joined The New York Times as a reporter in 1970. Not long afterword, while on vacation in France, he wrote an article on Nicolas, the wine merchant. Wine coverage in newspapers then was minimal, but he wrote a few more, and in 1972, was offered a regular wine column in the paper, on a trial basis.
The column ran nearly 30 years. At first it was part-time, written between news assignments, ranging from covering fires to the United Nations Security Council (where he sometimes got useful wine tips from diplomats), but as the column became widely syndicated in other newspapers around the country, became a full-time assignment.
In person as well as in print, Prial was genial and breezy, but with the detached alertness of an Agatha Christie detective. ‘A reporter’s tools are an eye for detail and a supply of skepticism,’ he wrote. ‘He might love wine—no harm in that—but he should love a good story more.’
He was as comfortable writing about Two-Buck Chuck as about Chateau Lafite, and always straightforwardly—’you should not have to be a budding enologist to enjoy reading about wine,’ he wrote, and his insistence on news value often exasperated PR people eagerly pitching their clients’ stories. His quiet ‘How is that news?’ usually indicated that the end of the conversation was in sight.
The success of his column inspired many other newspapers, large and small, to hire wine writers, but he missed reporting on the wider world, and occasionally took leaves of absence to cover the broadcasting industry, or to work as a European correspondent—based, at his own request, in Paris, where wine and politics (and good food) are never far apart.
He retired in 2004, without fanfare. As Howard Goldberg, his long-time colleague at The Times, recalls, ‘Frank was the model of an old-time newspaperman, street-smart Irish, a great story-spinner who couldn’t tolerate pretentiousness.’
Never entirely comfortable with the considerable influence he acquired over time, Prial deliberately distanced himself from most honours, but did accept membership in the Légion d’Honneur from the French government.
Written by Brian St Pierre