There are endless ways to decipher one’s personality. A color quiz, dream analysis, what-if scenarios, graphology, wine cellars…
Yes, wine cellars. Unsurprisingly, this thought popped into my head as I was organizing a client’s collection. The gentleman in question knows what he likes – over 90% of the bottles are California Cabernets from the better vintages – but what really struck me were the odd numbers of bottles: Seven of this one, ten of that one, five of the other.
What it says to me is, he’s a collector but also someone who isn’t afraid to pop the cork and enjoy drinking his vinious treasures.
Then I began wondering about other cellars – what do professionals (and one highly disorganized oenophile) think their wine collections say about them?
“We’re interested in what’s happening outside.”
“Outside” in this case refers not to the view from a window, but to wines not crafted by Italy’s winemaking Antinori family. Explains Alessia Antinori, spokesperson for Marchesi Antinori and part of the 26th generation working in the family business, “It’s important to [taste] other wines for the knowledge. [I collect] French, Australian, American – a little of everything.”
In addition, “We always take another wine to dinner or with our friends. We like to experiment and try new things, and these other wines influence our winemaking approach and mentality.”
This isn’t to say no Antinori wines grace the shelves of the cellar space she shares with her father and sisters in the family’s 15th century Palazzo Antinori. “In Italy in the 1960s to 1980s, there wasn’t a collector’s approach. We sold most of our production. We began to collect vintages in the 1990s, keeping them in the back of the cellar.”
And how neat is that cellar? With all the family members sharing the space, “it’s organized in the sense you understand it, but not perfectly so.”
“I love my husband.”
Jordan Salcito, sommelier and Rachael Ray Buddy on eHow Food, knows how to keep a restaurant’s wine cellar impeccably organized. The one at home is another story. “I like to have things in place and my husband does not share my love of order. It’s a waste of time to try and manage this,” she sighs of the bottles stored in two EuroCaves that dominate the kitchen of their Manhattan apartment. Yeah, that’s love.
However, she continues, if she had her way the wines would be arranged as at a restaurant, with “the lightest at the top and the heavier wines lower down, reflecting the progression of a meal.”
The wines she collects reflect her personality, Jordan says. “I like wines from the old world or with old world sensibilities from smaller estates. I don’t want to drink something mass-produced. It’s like a farmer’s market tomato versus a pale, grocery store one.”
Unexpectedly for an industry pro, Jordan says she’s a “recent convert to Napa and [just] began exploring the region.” She is also “obsessed with a wine from Corsica, a discovery from a sommelier friend,” describing it as “versatile, herbaceous and salty.”
“I’m an entertainer.”
Dr. Michael Wray, Director of Restaurant Management for Metropolitan State College of Denver, doesn’t want his guests to drink wine they don’t like. If, at a dinner party, someone balks at the wine being served, Dr. Wray doesn’t at all mind popping down to the cellar for something more palatable to their palate.
“I only have a couple of shelves for ageing wine,” he says, noting that they are hard to reach. “My wines need to reflect anything I may be cooking at any time. Food and wine must be in tandem; they aren’t separate to me.”
The collection is eclectic, ranging from Picpoul, a sharp, crisp white wine from France (the grape’s name means “lip stinger”), to Port, the rich full fortified wine. Dr. Wray also raves about “the new availability of Spanish wines. The whites are amazing, there’s terrific Grenache and Tempranillo. It’s a fun place to play!”
“I have ADD!”
Friends joke to Bob Knott, Global Practice Chairman of Edelman in Washington, DC, that his wine cellar is visual proof of his short attention span.
“I have a basement with a bench built into a stone wall. It’s about 15 feet long and three feet deep, and I layer it in there,” Knott explains. “There’s more wine than space, so it’s a haphazard treasure trove of wine.”
The bottles reflect his old-world tastes (“It’s mostly French. I have the same palate as my father.”) as well as important life events. “I know the story behind each bottle,” he says. For example, Mouton-Rothschild was the first first growth he and his wife tasted together, so they collect it to enjoy on special occasions. In addition, there are sizable numbers of bottles from his children’s birth years.
“Whenever I travel,” he adds, “I go to wine stores and ask, ‘What’s a good wine I can’t get at home?'”
Reflecting his need for a “certain spontaneity,” Knott knows there’s an upside to the randomness. Going down to get a bottle, he says, “is like hitting shuffle on the iPod.”
“I’m too cheap to buy my own wine!”
So jokes Tina Caputo. As editor of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine and columnist for Wine Review Online, Caputo simply has no need to set foot in a wine store. “I receive a lot of samples,” she says. “Ninety percent [of my collection] is what’s been sent.”
The bottles are stored on a large rack in her dining room. “It’s a 1200 square foot house built in 1920,” Caputo explains why there is no cellar or garage for storage. “It’s not temperature controlled, but in the southern part of Sonoma, the house tends to stay cool.” If a heat spike does cause a cork to leak – a rare occurrence, she says – then “you’ve just got to open [the bottle] right then!”
The bottom two rows of the racks are reserved for her personal wines, but personal or professional, most bottles are from California. “I just ordered some wines from the Willamette Valley…and some magnums from a winery visit with friends.” Her collecting style is simply “things I happen across through travel and work.” As to keeping it neat? “I try to organize it in terms of white and red. I can usually find things pretty quickly.”
“I’m not a collector, I’m an enjoyer.”
Kevin Sass, winemaker at Halter Ranch Vineyard in Paso Robles, in California’s Central Coast, says he often trades wines with fellow winemakers. “We go to dinners and swap out a few bottles,” he says of what must be some really fun evenings. “I base much of my drinking on what I’m easting and have a lot of stuff from Napa and Washington State.” Though generally meticulous and organized, Sass describes his cellar as “pretty much a train wreck. [Everything is] written down on a piece of paper. I just don’t pay much attention to my cellar!”
“I try to surprise people.”
“Why buy wine at a restaurant you could find at a wine shop?” asks Bertil Jean-Chronberg, wine director at Boston’s The Beehiverestaurant. “You go to a restaurant to discover something new.”
Thus informs his wine list philosophy as well as his personal collection. But while the restaurant’s cellar may show familiar grapes from unusual regions, “at home, I have wine that’s more difficult and less accessible,” Jean-Chronberg says. As an example, he cites a Chardonnay from France’s little-known Jura region that’s on the restaurant’s list, and the much more challenging Vin Jaune from this appellation that rests in his cellar.
This desire to seek out the truly unusual may stem from his youth: his family owned a winery in the Madrian region in Southwest France. “It’s a very serious, traditional wine,” he explains, “it’s not drinkable for 15 to 20 years.” Among his bottles are wines from as far away as China (he’s been collecting these for the past decade) and as close as California. “The majority of interesting California wine needs time to age – I am lucky to have started collecting it…years ago,” he says.
And everything, he says, is meticulously organized. “It’s easy to find a wine. I just open a big Excel spreadsheet. I know what I drank 15 years ago!”