by Fred McMillin
for April 22, 1999


How to Become a Wine Expert
(April 22nd is Secretary's Day)


My Secretary of the Day is the late Claude Morny. For years he was Secretary of London's International Wine & Food Society founded by the legendary Andre Simon. My wife and I got to know Claude well when he handled the arrangements to fly us from our home in Teheran to London to present a program on traditional Persian dishes and drink. Though he associated regularly with genuine geniuses of the grape, he also regarded me as an expert, due to one incident. Here's what happened.

How to Become a Wine Expert

In London on July 14, 1972 (the year is important) the Society held its 758th meeting, commemorating the Fall of the Bastille, an event that Andre always had celebrated. I arrived early and was sitting with Claude, when about 80 feet away waiters began bringing in the first wine of the dinner. From that distance, one could see only the color of the wine, not the label. The wine was pink. Programs were not yet on the table listing the wines, so taking a chance, I said, "How nice. A 1970 Tavel." Claude looked at me in surprise and handed me his advance copy of the menu. The wine was a 1970 Tavel Rosé (roh-zay). I tried to act nonchalant...

Claude Morney

Claude Morney (center), below portrait of Andre Simon, talking wine with the McMillins in London.

The Secret

This was my reasoning. First, about guessing it was a Tavel. The Society served only notable wines. For example, with the cheese course that night was an eight-year-old Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Now pink wines don't carry much prestige, so I guessed it would have to be from what at that time was the best pink wine district in the world, Tavel, the area around the village of Tavel north of Avignon.

As for guessing the year, I had tasted a number of vintages at Tavel the previous year. It was obvious that they must be drunk young. By the second year the pink color developed an onion-skin hue. The color change could be seen that night, even from 80 feet. Thus, the wine was more than one year old...so it must be a 1970 or older. Now, Claude would NEVER permit a three-year-old (lifeless) pink at the party, so it HAD to be the 1970. I quit while ahead, never guessing again about wines in Claude's presence, leaving undisturbed the illusion of expertise.

Today's Tavel

The Tavel in my cellar was imported by Boisset U.S.A., phone (415) 979-0630, FAX (415) 979-0305. Your favorite wine merchant should be able to help you find a bottle. Tavel has more intensity and duration of flavor than much of the competition. Give it 60 to 90 minutes in the fridge before serving.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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