In a profession where confusion and pretense reign supreme, sometimes there is a voice of reason. Becky Wasserman, legendary namesake of French wine importer, Becky Wasserman Selections, is just that voice. I never needed to see a Wine Spectator score, or a Robert Parker score on a wine that she had selected. I know that if she represents a wine that it will be just fine with me. I like some of her wines better than others, and we all have our own preferences; but finding a source that has helped to shape my sensibilities toward wine, makes a likelier fit.
Becky describes some of the wines that interest her as having "a regional or national character." "Perhaps it is old age," she said, "but I am confused by what I cannot identify, and pleased by what is proud to be French, American, etc...Concerning older Burgundies, and other mature wines, it remains mysterious and inexplicable that a liquid should live for so many years, not only live but change with time." Conversely, she added, "I am not interested in 'beverage' or industrial wines that are the same year after year."
Burgundy has been home for Becky since 1968. Her unique perspective of French and US traits gives her a very special insight as an expert to change in Burgundy, as well as a very perceptive view of the very interrelated restaurant scene when she travels to the US.
Farming is at the heart of all grape growing, and in Burgundy today, Becky states, "I feel very positive about the attention paid to the soil, and the move towards increasingly organic viticulture." The soil is central to what makes Burgundy unique, and Becky seems to feel very positively that those who have the stewardship of the land are paying even greater attention to taking proper care of it.
As for the US restaurant scene, Becky describes an American restaurant scene that is, "Thriving, evolving, and very exciting. Regional cuisine has found its voice, and cities offer an international palate that cannot be surpassed anywhere else in the world. It is important to remember that strangers visiting a region hope to find indigenous cuisine.
Of course, there is still a tendency to follow the most recent fashion, and the day I find catsup/ketchup foam on a hamburger, I will weep."
Finally, Becky speaks of the good, the bad, and the ugly of restaurant wine lists in the US.
"The good, " she said, "is the economic crisis has encouraged restaurants to pay attention to many 'lesser' appellations so that one can find an excellent bottle for under thirty dollars. Taillevent used to list a superb Muscadet."
"The bad continues to be a bit of snobbish attitude by a few sommeliers. Illustration: I can easily pass for a bag lady or an eccentric grandmother and have no badge stating that I am a member of the wine trade.
Therefore, I cannot possibly know anything, and am condemned to being bullied along with other customers who do not look as though they will order a bottle of Petrus. The wine list is then used as a weapon rather than a document of discovery and delight."
"The ugly: Points in brackets. Many customers do not read wine journals and couldn't give three hoots about initials. I would rather have a personal rating from the restaurant staff....'great with gnocci' than a SB 91."
Becky seems to make all efforts to use precise language and remove clichés and wine catch-phrases from her language. She confided, " Our company has banned descriptors."
She speaks of the disconnect between wine industry language, and tells a story that had great impact on her;
"I was conducting a tasting in Texas, and for very personal reasons, referred to wood violets when talking about a certain Beaujolais. A gentleman of impressive girth raised his hand and said, 'Ma'am, I am too heavy to get down on my knees, I am an urban man and not likely to go into a forest, please think of another way to talk about this wine.' I was so ashamed."
Don't worry Becky, I think it is easy to say the wines you represent speak for themselves.
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