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Savoring Gerald Asher

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Savoring Gerald Asher

The Pleasures of Wine
Click cover image to order The Pleasures of Wine from
If wine writers were wines, it seems beyond question that Gerald Asher would be a glass of particularly fine Madeira.

"I enjoy his writing in the same way I enjoy a very good Madeira," says my wine-loving pal Bob Ross. "A bottle can last me a month of sipping a little bit each night or two. Asher's writing is like that for me."

Asher was born in Britain, lives in San Francisco, and spends a lot of his time in France and the rest of the world's wine regions. He has been Gourmet magazine's wine editor for more than 30 years, a post whose primary duty seems to be writing the magazine's monthly wine column, "Wine Journal." He learned about wine during 40 years in the wine-selling trade, a chronology that reveals some overlap between his commercial and literary careers, as he turned 70 last year.

Asher may not turn up on many "most influential" or even "most well-known" lists of wine writers - he received just 10 votes (of 517 cast) in our recent Wine Lovers' Voting Booth poll on "Favorite Wine Writer," trailing a dozen writers behind the one-two combination of Robert M. Parker Jr., (69 votes) and Jancis Robinson (48).

But when serious wine enthusiasts start talking about "stylish" or even "literate" wine writing, Asher's name comes up more often than any other. In the recent Wine Lovers' Discussion Group conversation that inspired Bob Ross's comments above, Robert Noecker wrote, "Just as great wines convey a sense of place, Asher's writings about wine regions he visits communicate to the reader who may never get a chance to visit a palpable sense of the historical perspective, personalities, culture, atmosphere of place and relevance of the wines about which he writes so eloquently."

Added Keith Marton: "In person he is just as charming, knowlegdeable and 'non-arrogant' as one might imagine from reading his work. I view him as one of the best there is."

Based on these discussions, I recently browsed through a couple of Asher's most recent books - "Vineyard Tales," and "The Pleasures of Wine" - to get to know him better. Both books are anthologies of his published work, each containing roughly 30 essay-form articles that make it easy to dip in and enjoy a chapter or two without feeling a need to keep reading until you finish the book. As Bob Ross points out, these essays are enjoyable to sit back and savor, much as you might enjoy a glass of exceptional wine.

To give you a sense of Asher's style, let's wrap up today's report with a few of his quotable quotes on wine-related topics of interest:

  • On wine corks: "Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans sealed vessels with cork, but its use was forgotten, along with much else from the ancient world, during the long Dark Ages. We don't know whether the practice completely disappeared, but our earliest references to it in the modern world date from only the sixteenth century. In his plays, Shakespeare made such frequent allusions to cork as a closure that we can be sure it was in general use in England by the end of that century."
  • On organic wine: "Many producers of wine from organically grown grapes keep mum on the subject to leave their options open in the vineyard. ... In an extreme emergency, growers might be faced with the choice of spraying, as innocuously as possible, or losing a crop. They argue that it's better not to carry an "organic" statement at all - even when the vineyard is certified - than to find themselves obliged to explain, in such a situation, why it had to be dropped."
  • On matching food and wine: "For my own part, I have endured my share of awful food and miserable wines, but I have yet to be confronted with truly well prepared food and delicious wine in a combination so bizarre that either or both were actually ruined. Wine and food can be mutually enhancing, but they have a natural affinity in any case and are tolerant of each oher to a broad degree."
  • On tasting wine: "Tasting wine, incidentally, should not be confused with drinking wine. In tasting one is trying quite deliberately to judge the parts as well as the whole, even though one of the signs of quality in a wine is that its components fit together so seamlessly that taking them apart is, in fact, very difficult. In drinking, the integrity of a wine is paramount: it should flow naturally, harmoniously and convincingly from initial aroma to the taste that lingers after the wine itself has been swallowed."

Tempted? The following links will take you to information on about Asher's two most recent books. Should you elect to use these links to buy either book, we'll receive a small commission at

The Pleasures of Wine (2002),
$17.47 (hardcover), 30 percent off the $24.95 list price.

Vineyard Tales, Reflections on Wine (1996),
$11.87 (paperback), a 30 percent discount from the $16.95 list price.

If you would like to read - or join in - our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group conversation on this topic, see "What do you think of Gerald Asher, and why? "


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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