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What Are You Drinking, Eric Asimov?
If you drink wine and occasionally read about it, Eric Asimov probably needs no introduction. He's the wine critic for The New York Times. He's the author of How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto. And he recently sat down with us to chat about what he drinks at home, what he he finds surprising about the current wine scene, and what he recommends for drinking when your wallet's feeling a little thin.
What are you drinking these days, Eric Asimov?
What am I not drinking? Whites, reds, even a rosé or two, sherry, of course, beer. I'm pretty eclectic, although sometimes I go on a jag—have been craving sangiovese recently, Chiantis and Rossos di Montalcino mostly. Have also been obsessed with sémillon blends from California (white Bordeaux from Pessac-Léognan has been a long-standing obsession). But now that I think of it, chenin blancs—just had a Savennières the other night—rieslings from Germany and the Finger Lakes, Burgundy and Beaujolais, barberas and wines from Sicily, Riojas, and all kinds of unusual things from California like valdiguié, a grape that used to be mistaken for gamay. What's coming up? Bordeaux and California cabernet, malvasia from Italy, a tannat from Uruguay that I'm dying to try. How could I forget Champagne? Tonight, I think I'll have a Chablis. I've forgotten wines from the Jura, which I'll drink anytime.
What are your go-to fall drinks?
In the fall, a young man's thoughts turn to syrah. I love syrahs from the northern Rhône, it's a wine that conveys hearth and home. I think its aromas trigger the nesting instinct. And more and more, really good syrahs are coming from California, too, so more to choose from.
Honestly, though, I think the notion of seasonal drinking is overrated. I mean, I may drink marginally more red wine in cold weather than in hot because I may make more braised dishes and more meat dishes, but I probably drink just as much white, because we eat a lot of seafood and lighter dishes. I even drink rosé after Labor Day. Why not? The good ones, at least, which have substance, unlike the ephemeral rosés that fall apart within a year of harvest.
What do you drink when you're not drinking wine?
You mean, like, coffee? Black coffee and grapefruit juice in the morning, water throughout the day, coconut water after martial arts training. I love beer, though I gravitate to lighter, more refreshing styles like Pilsner, Kölsch and English-style ales. I occasionally will enjoy a cocktail, but not often as it means I can't drink as much wine. I love mezcal and single malt (Lagavulin 16 with a little water), but only once in a while.
If you were able to see into the future 10 years ago, which parts of today's wine scene would surprise you?
Ten years ago I expected that tastes would begin swinging away from the extremes that seemed to rule California at the time, but I had no idea how exciting that swing would be. Many fascinating, graceful, subtle wines emanate from California nowadays—Oregon, too, for that matter—and we're approaching a happy middle ground where people of all tastes can easily satisfy their preferences.
I don't think I anticipated the extent to which public tastes, which seemed so monochromatic a decade ago would become so heterogeneous. I didn't see quite how influential natural wines would be, or just how many unexpected regions would be making exceptional wines—Sicily, Hungary, Greece, the Finger Lakes, for starters, or how much better less-processed sherries could be than the sherries I was enjoying back then. I didn't anticipate, or maybe wasn't paying attention, to new wine markets in China and Russia, which would send prices of benchmark wines skyrocketing.
Would you be willing to name a few producers to watch in California and Oregon?
In California, Arnot-Roberts, Wind Gap, Dirty & Rowdy, La Clarine Farm, Martian Ranch, Ceritas, Anthill Farms, Copain, Broc, Massican, Matthiasson, just to start. I haven't surveyed Oregon as closely, but I would mention: Bow & Arrow, Big Table Farm, Eyrie, J. Christopher, Teutonic Wine Company, Division Winemaking (I'm sure I'm leaving out crucial names.)
What do you think we'll see next in wine?
More emerging regions, for one: the Italian Alps, Michigan, South Africa, the former Iron Curtain countries and more. I think we'll see a renewed appreciation of Bordeaux, particularly of Bordeaux vignerons if they have good terroirs. I think we're going to see Napa Valley, which has stood apart as the rest of California has evolved, begin to produce more cabernets that are restrained and balanced. I think as Burgundy gets more and more expensive we'll see a heightened appreciation of Beaujolais and Loire Valley reds.
Do you think Millennials (those born from the early 1980s to early 2000s) are changing the wine market? What do you think the latest generation to drink wine is looking for, and will their tastes change over time?
Are Millennials changing the wine market? Yes, but not as much as perhaps they would like to think they are. Millennials are no more discerning or anti-marketing than previous generation, but they have the distinct advantage of growing up in the era of high-speed Internet, by which they have access to far more critical voices about were available in the print age. In addition, they are growing up in the greatest era ever to embrace wine, with a greater diversity of styles from more parts of the world than ever before, so they have access to a far greater variety of wines than did previous generations. They also have the advantage of a far more advanced dining and drinking culture than older people did, so the educational and indoctrination process is more natural and discrete.
At a time when many classic wines from classic regions are pricey, what should young people—and all of us on limited budgets—drink?
I think the greatest values in wine are in the $15 to $20 range. This is still a lot of money, but the leap in quality from a $10 to a $20 wine is often exponential. I recommend fringe Old World areas, where the greatest variety can be found: the Loire, different parts of Spain and Italy, Greece, etc.
The single best thing to do is to cultivate merchants in a good wine shop—they can steer you to the best possible values as they get to know your taste.
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