Toasting Life With a Good Glass of Wine

William F. Doering
William F. Doering "discovered wine," his daughter said, in 1940s Germany. (1980 Family Photo)
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By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 9, 2008

William F. Doering's career as senior trade policy adviser in the Foreign Agriculture Service took him to international trade and wine meetings throughout the world: Belgium, Chile, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay.

He helped negotiate an accord that opened the European market to U.S. wines, stabilized the wine trade and allowed U.S. exports to rise. He spoke before Congress and international trade commissions and was recognized for his contributions to the field of international wine classification and labeling.

As an agricultural attache with the U.S. Agriculture Department's foreign service for 29 years, Doering also was responsible for investigating, analyzing and developing U.S. import controls for dairy products.

But the wine trade -- and, more precisely, the taste of a good wine -- continued to be central to Doering's life, long after he retired from the Foreign Agriculture Service in 1984.

He was, according to a neighbor, "our modern-day Bacchus" -- the Roman god of wine.

Doering, who died of congestive heart failure Feb. 11 at his home in Falls Church at age 92, loved to share his knowledge of wines. He wrote numerous articles over the years for Wines & Vines and Wine Spectator magazines, contributed articles to British and Swedish magazines and wrote occasional columns for the Journal newspapers and The Washington Post. He specialized in German wines and also served as a judge at the Virginia Wine Festival.

"He had an encyclopedic memory of the wines he drank and could recall vintages tasted decades ago," said his daughter, Mary Doering. "He collected wine and enjoyed sharing his bottles with others at wine tastings and dinners held at his . . . home."

From 1961 to 1991, Doering wrote a privately circulated buying guide, basically tasting notes on low-priced wines available in Washington stores. His daughter said the official circulation was about 550 copies, "but many more bootlegs were made."

"This resulted in numerous long-distance phone calls received from persons he had never met who were coming to D.C. and wanted some 'wine advice,' " she said.

Doering, lanky and lean at about 6-foot-4, was known for his booming voice, strong opinions and fondness for German wine. He often typed crisp letters on his vintage Royal typewriter (he never used a computer) to those he wanted to either compliment or chastise.

A few years ago, he scolded former Post wine critic Ben Giliberti over unfavorable comments he made in his column about Rieslings. Giliberti, in a Post article, described Doering as "my old friend, a notoriously kind curmudgeon, but also someone who really knows his wines."

Doering, a Philadelphia native, came to love German wine while working in Germany after World War II.

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