Robert Finigan, a wine and restaurant critic who founded an influential newsletter in the 1970s, died on Oct. 1 in San Francisco. He was 68.
Born in Virginia, Finigan first became interested in wine while attending Harvard, where one of his classmates came from a vineyard-owning family in France. After school, he went to San Francisco to work as a management consultant, but wine quickly became a passion. He spent vacations and business trips touring wine regions in California and Europe.
He also bought heavily from one of the leading merchants in the Bay Area, Esquin's. When Esquin's director heard that Finigan would be traveling to Bordeaux in 1970, he asked if Finigan wouldn't mind visiting châteaus and tasting the 1969 vintage from barrel. Finigan gladly obliged and after his trip advised Esquin's to skip the vintage. His prediction on the quality proved right.
Energized by his Bordeaux trip, Finigan established Robert Finigan's Private Guide to Wines, a newsletter for Bay Area wine lovers, in 1972, at a time when there were few Americans writing about wine. Finigan's newsletter was consumer oriented; he rated wines with four categories: Outstanding, Above Average, Average and Below Average. He was unafraid to be critical, once calling several Bordeauxs, "barely drinkable swill." He was also an early advocate of many California wines. The newsletter was successful, and in 1977, his Private Guide to Wines went national. It created the model for many of the critics who followed him.
In March 1983, Finigan traveled to Bordeaux to taste the 1982 futures. His report was unenthusiastic, calling them overly-alcoholic and lacking flavor. A few other writers agreed, but most of the press argued that the vintage was great, and the 1982 Bordeaux enjoyed a runaway success in the U.S. market. Finigan's readership declined in subsequent years and the newsletter was canceled in 1990. But he remained a leading wine writer, publishing several notable books, including Robert Finigan’s Essentials of Wine (1987) and Corks and Forks: Thirty Years of Wine and Food (2006).
Finigan is survived by his wife Suzanne.
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