I usually don’t have the time to read the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal until Sunday along with the morning paper. And usually I just grab the “Off Duty” section where the food and wine coverage appears. This weekend, the wine column is by Jay McInerney who profiles wine writer and salesmen Alexis Lichine. I hadn’t thought about Mr. Lichine for many years before reading this piece but by the end I realized how much this writer had formed my early wine education.
Alexis Lichine’s Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France was one of the first wine books I ever read back in 1981. Given my college student economics at the time, I checked it out from the library along with his Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits and began reading. Since I was going to school in Northern California, I had ready access to local wines but the wines of the Old World, particularly Bordeaux, caught my attention from Lichine’s books. And I was on my way to becoming the wine geek I am today.
Alexis Lichine was quite a character but his legacy is still very much with us today. He was instrumental in convincing California wineries to stop using generic names such as “Chablis” and “Burgundy” for their wines, in favor of varietal names. And it was good for business as Wente Brothers changed their “Graves” to Sauvignon Blanc and saw increased sales. Lichine is also responsible for reintroducing fine wine from Europe to the U.S. after both Prohibition and World War II.
McInerney ends the article with a Lichine quote that has been my personal guidepost for a long time:
“Buy a corkscrew, and use it.”