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Alexis Bespaloff, 71; Author of Popular Wine Guidebook

April 30, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Alexis Bespaloff, a wine expert and author whose most popular work, "The Signet Book of Wine," has sold more than a million copies, died April 22. He was 71.

Bespaloff died of cancer at his home in Las Cruces, N.M., his publicist, Margaret Stern, said.

"Alex was one of the best in the field," said Bespaloff's longtime friend, Ed McCarthy, who with others has written several wine "for Dummies" books.

"He knew wine; he knew how to talk about it and how to write about it."

"The Signet Book of Wine," published in 1971, quickly became a popular guide for "people serious about wine," McCarthy said. It was updated in two later editions and never lost its appeal.

"It is as good an introduction to the subject as any book available today," New York Times wine critic Frank J. Prial wrote in 1986 about the book's third edition.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Bespaloff obituary: The obituary of wine expert and author Alexis Bespaloff, published in the California section April 30, misspelled the name of the editor in chief of Saveur magazine. The correct spelling is Colman Andrews, not Coleman.

Bespaloff wrote several more books, each praised by reviewers. He was scholarly and serious about wine, friends said, but he was also open to new developments in the industry.

"Alex was never snobby," Coleman Andrews, editor in chief of Saveur magazine, said. "You never felt he was lecturing you or showing off. He was accessible and very generous with his knowledge."

He taught wine classes and attended wine tastings, where his serious side was often showing.

"When Alex was tasting wine, you couldn't speak to him," McCarthy said. "If I asked him what he thought about a wine, he wouldn't answer me. He was concentrating."

Born in Romania, Bespaloff moved to Belgium and later Brazil with his parents before the family settled in New York City.

He graduated from Amherst College, where he majored in literature, and attended Harvard University's business school but dropped out to begin a career.

He worked in book publishing, soon moved to the wine import business and went on to wine retailing before he turned to writing.

His articles were published in Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and other magazines. He wrote a wine column for New York magazine for more than 20 years, starting in 1972.

Somewhat formal and reserved with strangers, Bespaloff had a different reputation among his friends. "He was a noted conversationalist with a dry wit," Stern wrote in a statement.

She recalled a greeting he once left on his telephone answering machine:

"I am unable to take your call at this time. If this is an emergency, remember, white wine with fish, red with beef."

Bespaloff is survived by his wife, photographer Cecilia Lewis.

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