An Ode to the Masters

My wine consumption started in college, with Gato Nego, a South American red decorated with a miniature plastic cat leashed to the bottle neck by a teeny cord.  My wine education started with the Wall Street Journal.  I have been reading John and Dottie’s weekly “Tastings” column for so many years now that I consider their vino-dictions an immutable precondition of the Weekend Edition.  And so I was disheartened, befuddled, and stupefied to read that their 579th column (over “12 years- a full case!”) would be their last.  I suppose they are the latest victims of the economic woes slaying newspapers across the country.  While their dual salaries plus the cost of all of that wine must have been a tremendous financial undertaking for the Journal, their column was the only one that brought great heart and humanity to this notoriously staid and data-driven newspaper. You’ve probably already noticed that I refer to Mr. Brecher & Ms. Gaiter by their first names, John and Dottie, as if they are my actual friends.  This is because I feel like they are, in a more tangible way than my weird, fetishist obsession with wine/fiction writer Jay McInerney.  While John and Dottie’s wine column educates across wine regions and varietals, it is actually about the intersection of life and work, wine and love.  They divulge both family vacations and romantic dates, all for our voyeuristic pleasure, carrying us readers along in the sidecar of their wine-centric lives.  They open their hearts joyously and share their contagious enthusiasm and passion for drinking wine.  In fact having read their heartwarming autobiography, Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes from a Marriage, I’m privy to the details of how they fell in love, dual career trajectories, their painful journey to conceive a child (they have 2 girls), and how they finally landed such a plum gig in wine journalism.  It was in that autobiography, reading about their hard-won firstborn’s birth, that I first learned of the French tradition of putting a drop of wine to a just born baby’s lips.  This act seemed so simple but so graceful, connecting new with old, the drink of the ages with fertile soil and fertile bodies, that I co-opted it as my own when my children were born many years later.  So yes, I know John and Dottie well, and like any friend, I mourn their job loss, too.

I hadn’t actually intended to post a blog about two wine journalists I only half-way know.  Can you imagine my writing about my buddy Bob (Robert Parker) or hanging out with Jim (James Laube)?  But the other morning, during an especially sweaty and treacherous spin workout, my mind wandered to the way this influential husband and wife wine tasting team informed my personal wine style.  Countless times their column has served as the springboard for my own musings.  Again and again I’d read how John and Dottie were so moved by a certain wine’s moxie that they’d call up the vintner to discuss what made that bottle a standout.  Super sleuths first, their traditional journalism background provided the tools to dig to the bottom of any barrel!  Just last year it inspired me to pick up the phone and call the actual Josh Jensen, in the flesh, to inquire after Calera’s vino-lok.  And like John & Dottie, I try to avoid endorsing a specific wine for you to buy or taste (other than my own!).  Instead I encourage readers to taste more often, try new varietals or regions, and think about why they did or did not enjoy them.  What you think is dreadful may represent my favorite producer, and that’s OK.  It makes wine is fun, satisfying, and deeply personal.  Well before kids, the Tastings column inspired my monthly wine tasting club, comprised of dorky, fledgling pathologists-cum-novice winos.  Never have I been as proud as when Brian and I were mentioned by name in the 2003 Open That Bottle Night post-festivities retrospective.  Ironically, Brian received more “Hey, I saw you in the Journal” e-mail tidings after John and Dottie’s shout out than he has for all of his finance citings combined, over 15 years.

And about Open That Bottle Night, that genius of a holiday borne entirely from John and Dottie’s merlot-tinted imagination.  Singlehandedly they transformed a dreary, winter weekend into a country-wide wine party and annual tradition.  For nearly ten years now, John and Dottie have implored, cajoled and noodged us readers to open that special bottle of wine that we’ve been hoarding for centuries for the mystery occasion that never materializes.  On the final weekend of February, they urge us to shake off the winter blues, pop the cork, and tell them about it.  It’s unprecedented really.  A few weeks after the event, John and Dottie publish a multi-page compilation of anecdotes, recipes, and one-liners cataloging America’s most treasured bottles and the people who drank them, with a little footnote explaining what they imbibed at home.  It’s an interactive give and take, and they make us readers the stars, like real friends would do.  Can you fathom Paris Hilton inviting the collective readership of US Weekly to party next Thursday night in their favorite panties and then tweet her explaining which skivvies they selected and why?  It’s preposterous.  Those stars are not like us, but John and Dottie are.  They’re just a regular ‘ole married couple who fervently love wine and want us to share their fun.  Although their column is kaput, John and Dottie will always have a special place in my heart and in my cellar. 

Should they need (an unpaid) wine writing gig, I give them an open-ended forum and opportunity to share their thoughts here, on the Bruliam blog.  If they do, we’ll donate $500 to the charity of their choice.  John and Dottie, are you out there?