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He did his first comparative tasting at the behest of his boss, who needed him to assure customers that the '49 Beaujolais was every bit as good as the (sold-out) '47. "I suppose there are more bizarre ways of finding a life's vocation, that's when and how I discovered mine." Thirty-odd years later, we got On Wine.

If one of the great pleasures of reading The Compleat Imbiber was in affirming the prophecies it made about the wine industry, one of the remarkable things about the Asher book is how current it remains. Alsace, despite making excellent wines and offering simpler labels, can't get a foothold in the American market. Varietal correctness vs. marketability was a hot issue: "Technique has now acquired importance beyond soil and grape variety. We find red Graves, made by carbonic maceration, that taste like tannic Beaujolais...It is all the inevitable result of marketing wine instead of selling it, I suppose. Once we looked for ways to teach the world how to enjoy wine's variety. Now we teach winemakers the ways of the world." And even 25 years ago, the flavor of French oak was having its way with Chardonnay: "...the converted in all matters are notorious for their excess, and in 20 years it has become common for California Chardonnays to be judged simply by the degree of oak in the wine. The taste of oak itself, often oppressively exaggerated, has become so confused with what should be the varietal taste of Chardonnay that many assume the taste of oak to be the taste of Chardonnay."

And now and then, his reading of the times reaches the status of perennial wisdom, expressed in a style that has rarely been surpassed: "Because all country wines and foods have developed naturally as ordinary people have sought constantly to improve what was basically available to them, there is an easy relationship between them all, and they are easy to enjoy. Complicated dishes created by skilled chefs to enliven jaded palates and wines carefully oriented towards sophisticated city markets can be exquisite...But when I sit down to a plain daube of lamb and a bottle of Côte du Rhone, I know that God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world."

And later, "In the south [of France] the enjoyment of wine is direct. There is no long view or distant expectation, no time lost analyzing or discussing a wine that has failed in its immediate essential — to satisfy. Despite highways, tractors, and power presses, the Rhone delta is an antique world where a bottle of wine is, after all, a bottle of wine." Its "sound, everyday wines...must contribute more to the total sum of human pleasure than does all the sublime but minute quality of, say, Richebourg."

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