Bespaloff wrote two important books in my wine life, my first and in my judgment still, my best.
Here's a review by Frank Prial of my first wine book -- purchased for $.10 at a garage sale -- I got the price knocked down from a quarter because it was so ratty, much to Janet's delight:
Alexis Bespaloff's ''New Signet Book of Wine,'' a Plume book from New American Library, (352 pages, $9.95). Mr. Bespaloff's book was first published in 1971, at the dawn, so to speak, of the great American wine boom. It was revised in 1980. The third edition, published this year, includes chapters on California and Italy that have been rewritten and expanded by 50 percent, with, among other things, some 800 new entries in the index. I'm taking Mr. Bespaloff's word for this; I didn't count.
What cannot be contested is the value of the ''New Signet Book of Wine''; it is as good an introduction to the subject as any book available today. Most of the good new general books on wine are reference works. Mr. Bespaloff's book is certainly a good reference work; but it is a good book to read, too.
His 62-page section on California is as complete and as illuminating as many longer books devoted exclusively to the subject. But I think he is a little too easy on the California contingent when he says that the way in which a particular California wine ''may change arbitrarily,'' a phenomenon I find so frustrating, ''provides the interested consumer with an ongoing sense of discovery.'' Sure, so would finding that East 79th Street had become Kissena Boulevard.
Mr. Bespaloff calls his book ''a complete introduction.'' In living up to that description he discusses the fundamentals of wine drinking, thereby providing some of his best comments. I particularly enjoyed the following: ''Never buy the cheapest wine in any category, as its taste may discourage you from going on. The glass, corks, cartons and labor are about the same for any wine, as are the ocean freight and taxes for imported wines. Consequently, if you spend a little more, you are likely to get a better wine, because the other costs remain fixed. Cheap wine will always be too expensive.''
Good advice from a good book.came, if only for a while, a part of the region. *****
And the best?
Alexis Bespaloff in ''The Fireside Book of Wine,'' Simon and Schuster, 1984. A book of quotations, short stories, delights to mind and the imagination -- I've read it a dozen times at least. Here are two delights to tempt you.
H. Warner Allen: ''Some four-hundred years before Christ, Hermippus, a poet of the Old Comedy, put into the mouth of Dionysus a description of just such a wine as that Chateau Margaux 1871: 'But there is,' says Dionysus, 'a wine which they call the mellow, and from the mouth of its jar as it is opened, there comes a fragrance of violets, a fragrance of roses, a fragrance of hyacinth. A divine perfume pervades the high-roofed house, ambrosia and nectar in one.''
Mr. Allen penned these lines after a particularly memorable tasting. The Margaux '71 followed an 1869 Chateau Latour: ''After the thunderous heroism of the epic Latour, [ the Margaux ] comes with the dainty sweetness of lyric poetry. Its magic bouquet envelops the senses in a cloud of airy fragrance, raspberry-scented like the breezes from the Islands of the Blest, a dream of grace and delicacy, the twinkling feet of dancing nymphs, suddenly set free in our tedious world.''
Did anyone bother to ask about points?
I'll miss Bespaloff, but read his books again and again.