I met Ned Benedict for the first time in the late 1990s, at a tasting at Judson Grill, the midtown New York restaurant where chefs Bobby Flay and Bill Telepan drew raves, and wine lovers flocked (it closed in 2004). At the time, Ned was working as the wine director at Aureole. Over the years, Ned and I got to know each other, bonding over our mutual love for Burgundy. For the past decade or so, we had lunch together about three or four times a year.
I saw Ned a month ago at David Bowler’s annual backyard barbecue. We shared a few good glasses of wine, had a few laughs. He was looking forward to his vacation and we planned to get together again for lunch before the summer was over.
On the morning of July 15, I received a phone call. Ned had died. I was in disbelief. Only 60 years old, he left us too soon. It hits hard when one of your peers is gone so unexpectedly.
Ned was well-known in New York wine circles. A veteran of the Manhattan restaurant scene, he left Aureole to become the Burgundy buyer at Zachys in 2002. I bought a lot of Burgundy from him during that time, especially 2005 Pinot Noirs. He was also a resource for what was happening in the Burgundy market. Ned was a fixture in Burgundy, where we would run into each other from time to time. He traveled frequently to Champagne and Italy too, making many friends in wine regions around the world. In 2009, he joined Grand Cru Selections as managing partner, building a portfolio of some of the most sought-after wines from France and Italy.
Our lunches together were an opportunity to try a new restaurant, new wines or revisit old favorites. There was almost always Champagne and, naturally, Burgundy. Ned had a dry sarcasm and pulled no punches. Needless to say, our discussions about wine, the business, new trends and life in general were always enjoyable and informative. But what I remember the most were the laughs and the camaraderie. In 2009 a group of us had dinner at Eleven Madison Park. The quote of the night for me came from Ned, describing chef Daniel Humm’s cuisine: “The guy can cook!”
Nobody was immune to Ned’s sarcasm (even himself), however, he was just as quick to give praise and generous with his time and vast knowledge of wine and the restaurant and wine business. He was driven, but he also enjoyed life. If his emails were more than six words, it must have been an off day for him.
I will miss our lunches, the discussions and the tasting. Ned always brought something new to the conversation—wine, a restaurant opening, a question or a comment—that enriched the debate. But most of all, he was a lot of fun.
I’ll see you on the other side for a good glass of Burgundy one day, my friend.
A memorial service for Ned Benedict will be held on Sunday, July 28, at 3:00 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue in New York.