My Letter From Andre
In 1979, being an even younger whippersnapper than I am today, I was
curious to know more about some winetasting terminology which I had heard or read.
The famous Beaulieu Vineyard winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff, had spoken about
"horizontal" and "vertical" with respect to wine evaluation.
A "horizontal" tasting would be something like a flight of Cabernets from the
A "vertical" tasting features the same wine but from a variety of vintages.
Mr. Tchelistcheff had described wines as having a certain amount of intensity
"vertically" and "horizontally."
I found these terms perplexing. If the average bear is going to learn to appreciate
wine as a meal-time beverage, why would they be concerned with trying to taste a wine's
horizontal elements or its verticality?
So I fired off a slightly whimsical letter saying I'd seen "horizontal" and
"vertical" on some knobs on the television set, but not on a wine glass.
I received a letter from Mr. T and signed by his very own hand.
145 Stonecrest Drive + Napa, California 94558 + Phone
September 23, 1979
Mr. Gerald Weimax
Burlingame, Ca 94010
Dear Mr. Weimax;
In reference to your
letter of August 22, 1979 and specifically asking my interpretation of two specific words
that I often use in my current terminology describing a particular structure in different
Geometrically in tasting the wine I always use the term
"pyramid" which in different sizes may represent quite different configurations.
So furthermore, the highest vertical line in the highest vertical pyramid
represents the wines of the outstanding quality in its frequency, aroma, flavors and
bouquet usually rapidly jumping to your nose without any effort and rapidly attracts your
The largest based pyramid or horizontal base represents the
physical structure of the body of the wine, its glycerolly oiliness, lactic sweetness,
tannic structure and the rest of the chemical compounds that we are detecting in our mouth
by our taste buds and going as far as a persisten length in aftertaste.
So therefore, the levels of the pyramid in my mind basically
give me the principles of qualitative interpretation.
With my best regards,
Is that, now, clear to you?
Mr. Tchelistcheff was, incidentally, a heavy smoker. I remember my father used to
defend his use of cigarettes pointing out that the great Andre Tchelistcheff smoked.
The great story was that Tchelistcheff had, at one point, tried to quit smoking.
However, the story went, with so many years of tasting wine as a smoker, when he
stopped smoking the wines tasted funny to him!
In any event, Tchelistcheff seemed, from my perspective, to be a friendly and sweet old
man. He sure made some amazingly fine Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the 1968 and 1970
Private Reserves remaining "Hall of Fame" wines in my book.
After he left BV he had a consulting business. Early customers included Firestone
Vineyards, for example. I know he also was paid by Jordan to consult with their
project, amongst others. Virtually anyone who engaged his services was quick to
trumpet their being a client of The Great Andre Tchelistcheff. Curiously, though,
none of the customer's wines ever tasted anything like the great wines Tchelistcheff was
responsible for at BV. He may simply have been too polite to not only give advice
but insist the client follow his instructions.
I spoke with one of today's legends, the great Helen Turley. She once said the
biggest problem in her line of work as a consulting winemaker was not merely to give
advice and counsel...it was to have this advice followed after she left the winery.
Ms. Turley, idolized by a number of wine writers, is regarded as a "difficult"
person to deal with. Though respected by much of the wine community, her resum
rarely shows much longevity in any position she's taken. However, she is responsible
for many really exceptional wines; perhaps more in her modest career than Andre was
in all of his!
The other great "consulting" winemaker of our day is a gentleman named Tony
Soter. He has help set up a very impressive number of wineries and his wines tend to
be balanced and charming.