Robert Siegel, 60, is an award-winning journalist and senior host of National Public Radio's All Things Considered. Since joining NPR in 1976, he has filed reports from Europe and the Middle East, opened the London bureau of the news organization, and headed the department of news and information. He now works mainly on domestic stories, and always has an open bottle of wine in his home. Siegel recently spoke with Wine Spectator from his office in Washington, D.C., in between planning stories on caskets with Major League Baseball logos and subprime mortgages.
Wine Spectator: How did you get into drinking wine?
Robert Siegel: Sometime around college [Columbia University, '68], in the days when it was legal for those under 21 to buy alcohol. It was very cool to have what seems like Mateus rosé. I was a French major, and I traveled to France one summer, and to Spain. I was very charmed by the idea of always having wine with meals—especially cheap wine.
WS: What do you like to drink now?
RS: I like Merlot. I realize how déclassé that is to some people, but I like the cheap, fruity flavor of a good Merlot. There's a gentleman who represents a number of small vineyards in California. He sells me Stonewood Merlot, which we're actually very fond of. We keep stocked with it. It's the Siegel family house red.
WS: Describe your experiences with wine while on the job.
RS: I was once with a colleague in Paris and we were taken out to dinner by the French foreign ministry, the Quai d'Orsay. They ordered a Sancerre and my friend, a producer, remarked on what a good wine it was. One of the Frenchmen asked us, "Oh, did you grow up knowing a good deal about wine?" And my colleague said, "Well, no, until college I didn't even know that wine came in round bottles." The two Frenchmen were completely baffled by that remark.
I [also] experienced a lot of Georgian wines in the former Soviet Union. While I did like the vodka, I was never tempted to bring home Georgian wine at that time. I'm sure it's on a comeback, now. I used to go to Germany all the time and have wonderful white wines there. The only time we lived abroad, I was in England for four years, and I never developed a fondness for English wines [laughing].
WS: You've traveled to many wine regions, though?
RS: For my 60th birthday in June, my wife took me to Provence. We drank a lot of Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône rosés. It was hot weather and we had these rosés with every meal. I'm always struck by the wines that we drink there that the French don't let out of the country, out of the department. They are wonderful and I never see them anywhere else. As a tourist, [I've also] traveled to South Africa. I hadn't known that the main point of the Dutch originally colonizing South Africa was to grow grapes for wine. They had this very extensive wine culture. It was very impressive—exotic.
WS: Describe the wine culture in Washington, D.C.
RS: We [NPR] always used to get lampooned as being the brie-and-Chablis set, which I never found to be especially true. I've always found that the people I worked with prefer a bottle of beer to anything else. I'm trying to think of who the top wine geek would be. Our legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg and her husband? He keeps a collection of wines and really knows his stuff. But a lot of people [in D.C.] drink wine. It's not like the Carter administration, when people looked down on alcohol.
WS: During the Bush administration years, we saw a boycott of French wine. Any predictions for the next administration?
RS: [Laughing] I never stopped drinking French wine. I drink a lot of California wine, but it's not out of any jingoism. It's not a patriotic impulse. If Huckabee is the next president, we have a former Baptist minister as a president, we're not going to see the president with a glass in his hand very often. If Romney's president, it's not going to be a very alcoholic administration either, although I've read that he definitely keeps alcohol in his home to serve guests who drink. He doesn't drink himself because he's Mormon. I've been with McCain when I was drinking, but I didn't see him drinking—he's too busy for that.
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