Q & A with Kermit Lynch

The legendary French wine merchant demystifies wine appreciation.



The legendary French wine merchant urges us all to chill out when it comes to great wine.

For 25 years, Berkeley-based wine merchant and importer Kermit Lynch has educated oenophiles about French wine and food-and-wine pairings in an accessible, no-nonsense style, combining impeccable taste with a practical penchant for easy drinking, food-friendly selections. Specializing in French, German and Italian wines, his shop has been a Mecca for discerning wine drinkers since the 1970s. Lynch recently chatted with WE about Puritans, the rise of rosé and why good wine is akin to rocking out to Muddy Waters.

Wine Enthusiast: As overall interest in wine spreads, is there any advice you wish to impart to the newcomers?

Kermit Lynch: You don't need an excuse—or a textbook—to drink and enjoy wine. People seem to be getting caught up in acidity levels and so forth. Wines aren't meant to be studied.

WE: Why do you think people in the U.S. feel the need to "study" wine?

KL: We're a puritanical country. People can't just say "I like it." They have to feel like they're achieving something. It's that whole guilt thing.

WE: Who breaks that stereotype?

KL: I'm actually fascinated with the Gen Xers and younger. They seem to love knowledge. With the food scene as hot as it is, wine is a great addition to the equation. It's endless. It's like when you hear a great harmonica solo on a Muddy Waters album. You go out and buy that guy's album, and it leads you down a whole new road. It's a formula for knowledge.

WE: What are your thoughts on people who buy by the ratings?

KL: A lot of people are inspired by 100-point wines. I don't drink wine with any of these people. Most often, I'm drinking inexpensive wines—and not because I have to. First off, at my house, a bottle of wine doesn't last very long. I can hear the cash register with every sip of a $150 bottle. But if that's a starting point for some people, then so be it.

WE: What are some of your favorites recently?

KL: I've always been a lover of old white Burgundy. Chablis as well. With many Chablis wines, you can literally taste the domaine—the changes in mineral content of the soil. It's a thrill. Raveneau's Vaillons (Chablis) is one of my favorites at the moment.

WE: What was one of the biggest surprises throughout the years?

KL: In 1976, I bought 25 cases of a single rosé, and couldn't give the stuff away. Now, I import several varieties; and the one that I bought in 1976 I now buy 1,500 cases per year. It's a Corbiéres Gris de Gris, and sells for $12. It pairs with more kinds of food than any other wine I've ever tasted.

WE: For those who want to try something a little different, shake up their buying pattern, what would you recommend?

KL: Red wine from the Loire. Everyone knows Sancerre. But the reds made from Cabernet Franc—which used to be impossible to sell—are now the hippest thing going. Try a 2005 Charles Joguet from Chinon.

WE: What would you say to the wine lovers who are thinking about taking a wine class or studying?

KL: Save your money and take a trip to France, Italy or Germany. Get in to some cellars. When you do, ask the fella who took you down there what the acidity level of his wine is. He'll look at you like you were crazy. You learn whether you like that glass or not. That's all there is.


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