April 22, 2006 — Alexis Jacques Bespaloff, the noted wine critic and writer, died today in Las Cruces, New Mexico after a long battle with cancer. He was seventy-one years old. Mr. Bespaloff was born on November 15, 1934, in Bucharest, Romania and emigrated as a child with his parents to Belgium and then Brazil, before moving to New York. He attended the Horace Mann School, Amherst College and Harvard University.
Upon graduation, he worked briefly at Simon and Schuster and then in the wine business in Bordeaux and New York. He began writing about wine and became one of the foremost experts of his generation, publishing six books, among them: The Signet Book of Wine, a seminal work in U.S. wine literature, first published by New American Library in 1971 and subsequently revised and expanded in 1980 and 1985, selling well over a million copies. Alexis Bespaloff’s Guide to Inexpensive Wines, of which James Beard said, “Fascinating…fills a long-felt need for a guide that is informative and accurate” was published in 1973 by Simon and Schuster. In 1977, his literary anthology, The Fireside Book of Wine, was published by William Morrow and Company, and in 1988 Morrow also published his revised and updated The Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine, called “the finest quick reference book in the literature of wine” by The New York Times. Alexis Bespaloff’s Complete Guide to Wine, Signet, followed in 1994.
Mr. Bespaloff was also wine critic of New York Magazine for over two decades, and wrote for publications as diverse as Wine Enthusiast, Food & Wine, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, House & Garden, Travel and Leisure, Connoisseur, and Penthouse. In addition, Mr. Bespaloff appeared on television and lectured widely. The mentoring and help he extended to those starting out in the wine field has been acknowledged in a number of books and articles.
A deeply cultured man, Mr. Bespaloff had passionate interests in art, ballet, theatre, music and photography. He was also a noted conversationalist with a dry wit that led him to laugh at his own foibles as well as those of others. He is remembered to this day for his 1970 telephone-answering machine message, “I am unable to take your call at this time. If this is an emergency, remember, white wine with fish, red with beef.” Mr. Bespaloff is survived by his wife, photographer Cecilia Lewis. He will be missed by many.