A Wine American Remembered, Rebecca Wasserman-Hone

3rd April 2024


August 20, 2021, Rebecca Wasserman-Hone passed away, leaving her British life partner Russell Hone, (her third husband). I was acquainted with Wasserman’s Le Serbet imports from the early eighties when she aligned with Christopher Cannon combining the experience of two legendary wine experts. One of my earliest professional tastings was with her American agent in Washington DC, Todd Ruby who sold the company mantra “We follow a simple rule: if we won’t drink it, we won’t sell it.” He directed me to taste her Loire winery Sancerre Le Monts Damnée vineyard of Chavignol and as a contrast her Sancerre import from the Loire commune in Bué which expressed tender celery heart leaves aromas and flavors.

He opened next, a Non Vintage blend of premier cru vineyards vinified by the Léchère Champagne House for the Venice Simplon Orient Express train. The aroma gently cossets your nose with active yet controlled effervescence and the allusive flavors of Scottish ginger shortbread. The wine is softly enveloping your palate to be an exceptional aperitif with Buckwheat Blini & Caviar, or to be paired with steamed Japanese Shumai dumplings.

When I flipped over the brilliance of the three wines’ purity, and individuality. Todd thoughtfully opened three recently shipped bottles from Jerez-Spain by Bodegas Emilio Lustau. All the sherry wines selected were poured from shipped half bottles to capture the recent bottling’s fresh vintage aromatics. The initial Sherry tasting began with a Fino Manzanilla that evoked freshly toasted almonds, and baked bread so delicately dry, with the salty seaside aroma. After Cannon & Wasserman’s imports, other imported wines I’d tasted were lacking the individual characteristics that defined Rebecca’s wines when grown and vinified.

I realized this was a portfolio I could get behind and pour with pride. Following the Fino Manzanilla sherry, he chose a richer, yet more arrestingly dry Oloroso sherry that after tasting made me think of the dentist, smoky drilling my teeth’s enamel, not an appealing thought, but it was an apt tasting description. These two sherries were, as the Loire selections, pure individuality. The third Sherry bottle Ruby opened was chilled slightly cooler temperature, a Pedro Ximenez •cuvée PX• sherry that was extraordinarily concentrated with flavors of sweet raisins, dark bitter sweet chocolate and warm North African Mediterranean spices. Almost too much beyond sips, the PX was a sensational tonic of power and richness that belied the decades of ageing that went to achieve its success.

I’d only been prior exposed to Cream Sherry from Williams & Humbert, now currently referred to as the Canasta brand.

The Sherries Todd Ruby offered me tastings made me think of the flor yeast fermentation unique to Southern Spain, and the terroir’s magical interpretation of how similar it was to the Champagne district. Ms Wasserman didn’t disappoint with support and a range of potential options for hospitality service. Soon, I was experimenting around DC, with classic French dining establishments, and Ruby was tasting me on smaller individual producer’s domains. He showed me the early releases of Hubert deMontille and Denis Bachelet’s 1985 offerings. These were some of the most anticipated releases of deMontilles Beaune burgundies; also Burguet, and Bachelet’s Chambertins from the 1985 vintage were most successful universally, these were some extraordinary wines! I was poised for my wine education to be included in the rarest of professional experiences.

The following week I was treated to the Alsace Cremant bottling by the two Alsatian Mure sisters Domaine Clos Saint Landelin Vineyards & winery. I’m only remembering the blend of Pinot Blanc, Auxeroisse, and Riesling grapes included for aromatics and flavor neutrality. The aroma was soft and crisp with a volcanic scent of talcum powder and fermenting grape freshness that wasn’t present in Cremant wines of that day.

It was a testament to Ms Wasserman & Mr Hone’s exceptional tasting abilities! I really loved her passion for uprooting her family to move to France, to an extremely traditional rustic remote area, befriending locals. Rebecca was a quick study who charmed her way with French barrel coopers hoping for a burgeoning new American market. Being an American, Ms Wasserman found an opportunity selling air-dried stave French barrels to North Coast California wineries. They in turn introduced her to Kermit Lynch of Berkeley, the preeminent local importer of French and Italian wines. Mr Lynch was enamored with her tasting abilities, work ethic, and to move her family to rural Burgundy and thrive in a competitive market. Soon she was appointed an independent agent for Kermit Lynch Imports.

Ms Wasserman had a successful business with grower Champagnes, then in 1990 just beginning to capture the attention of US Sommeliers in major markets. Her selections of Champagne growers include:

Champagne Pierre Gerbais of Aube, an organic vineyard practitioner who celebrates nearly 100 year old vineyards to produce Gerbais, a flavorful and concentrated, yet never heavy Champagne hallmark.

His illustrious neighbors include: Cedric Bouchard, Marie Courtin, Jacques Lasssigne, Ulysse Collin, Vouette et Sorbée. It is clear the young Aurelian Gerbais counts good Champagne neighbors as his contemporary luminaries!

Huré Fréres in the Ludes village is an organic/biodynamic Champagne producer. His solera for blending his non vintage Champagnes began in 1982 and supplies a vast aromatic complexity to his blends.

Le Brun Chervegny in the esteemed village Avize practicing Lutte Raisonée viticulture, without malolactic fermentation for the crisp acid cut expected from Avize.

From 1988 through 2011 I had the pleasure of tasting wines with Rebecca and Russell, and also her two sons Peter (East Coast and Southern USA sales) and Paul (West Coast USA sales). The impeccable portfolio’s wine palate whether from France’s illustrious districts or newly emerging Old World appellations were on the edge of giving wineries vineyards an opportunity if the wines were enjoyable to drink and sell, as Rebecca Wasserman used as her sales motto.

Peter Birmingham

Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.