If there was one wine writer every other wine writer always read, it was Frank Prial. For more than 30 years, his Wine Talk column for the New York Times set the tone and the topics of conversation about wine all around the world.
Prial died Nov. 6, at 82, of complications of prostate cancer. Eric Asimov, his successor at the Times, offers a thoughtful obituary, which traces Prial's life and achievements.
The recently-published New York Times Book of Wine allows us to hear Prial's voice directly, reprinting more than three dozen of his columns, written between 1981 and 2004. (Prial debuted Wine Talk in 1972.)
From his perch at the Times, Prial surveyed the world of wine with a reporter's nose for news, a connoisseur's taste for quality and a scrappy Irishman's disdain for cant and pretension. He enjoyed a good meal and admired a good bottle, but he always championed solid value, honest craftsmen and plain talk. Steadfastly fair and honest, he kept the wine world down to earth.
I met Prial in the early 1980s. I was a wine buyer and aspiring journalist in New York and ran into him now and then at tastings. He was the very picture of a newspaperman, always in a hurry, with rumpled clothes and a gruff manner, but he was unfailingly kind, with a sudden smile that lit up his face when he found something amusing. And much about the world amused Frank Prial.
Prial seemed at times to believe it was more important to deflate pretension about wine than to excite enthusiasm for it. He rarely waxed poetic about great bottles, saving his appreciation for the people who made the wines; his perceptive, generous portraits ranged from suave Remi Krug of Krug Champagne to irascible Walter Taylor of New York's Bully Hill.
In a 2004 tribute to renowned newsman Alistair Cooke, Prial wrote about their last conversation, a few days before Cooke died at 95. "We began with wine; we ended with whiskey. A good friendship." Our conversation with Prial also began with wine, and developed a strong spirit over the years. His voice will be missed.