Cellaring the Dream Team


So, after last week's section on starting a wine cellar, you're curious about what to put in it. What to buy is always a knotty problem. And since I don't know your palate, making specific suggestions would take up this entire section.

In general, select wine from producers who have a track record for having made great, ageworthy wine over the years, and then select only from vintages that are considered great.

Moreover, to limit your risk, pick wines from producers who are well enough known so that if down the road you find you don't like a wine, there may be someone else who will and may be willing to trade you for something you prefer.

I'd focus on red wine, which is most of what I drink. The wines on the following personal "wish list" aren't inexpensive, and some wines are difficult to get, but every wine will reward:

* Bordeaux: Top-growth wines from the 1986 and 1990 vintages. Focus on chateaux such as Latour, Margaux, Lafite, Cheval Blanc, Lynch-Bages, Cheval-Blanc, Lagrange, Palmer and Ausone.

* California Cabernet Sauvignon: I prefer elegance over raw power, so start with Silverado Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards, Etude, Grace Family Vineyard, Caymus Vineyards, St. Clement Vineyards, Markham Vineyards, Hess Collection, Arrowood, Laurel Glen, Phelps, Meridien Vineyards (a bargain in this group) and Cuvaison.

Among younger, less-well-known producers, try Cabernets from Staglin Family Vineyards, Araujo Estate, Von Strasser Vineyards, and Oakville Ranch Vineyards.

* Burgundy: Most Burgundies from 1990 and many from 1991 will be great in a decade. But because of the confusing nature of this district, it's best to ask a good wine merchant for ideas. Stick to reputable producers, however; famed "sleepers" may turn out, a decade hence, to be dead. In whites, I'd pick any of Ramonet's, though a few are a test to the uninitiated.

* California Chardonnay: Not many of these age well. Those that can include Stony Hill, St. Clement, Hanzell Vineyards, Iron Horse Vineyards, Far Niente Winery, Grgich Hills Cellars, Woltner Estate and Trefethen. Many of the rest should be carefully watched.

* American Pinot Noir: California makes many great ones. The best, from Williams & Selyem, is all but unavailable, so try the great wines of Gary Farrell in addition to Calera, Au Bon Climat, David Bruce Winery, Iron Horse, Saintsbury, Acacia Winery, Navarro Vineyard and the terrific Domaine Drouhin of Oregon.

* Rhone: Any red wine from Jaboulet, Chapoutier or Guigal is a candidate to age, particularly those from the Cote Rotie or Hermitage, but also such lovely wines as St.-Joseph and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

* Australia: Grange Hermitage is a must, but very difficult to find, so try for Penfolds Bin 707.

* Italy: Barolo from 1989 or 1990, and Chianti Riserva from 1990 and 1991 will be excellent within the next decade. The '90 Barolos should be alive and kicking for our grandchildren's midlife crises.

* Port: Any producer's 1963, wines that are still not at their peak.

* Sauternes: Chateau d'Yquem or Chateau Climens.

As for Champagne, buy what you need when you need it. Cellaring Champagne is a dicey proposition and best left to people who have a long experience with old bubbly.


I asked a number of people, including wine collectors, wine writers and merchants, for ideas. Here are a few of them, with general price ranges listed for current wines.

Vince DiPierro of Studio City, one of the world's leading collectors of Chateau Haut-Brion, suggests we taste a bottle and then store a few more of--what else- 1983 Chateau Haut-Brion, "which is pretty drinkable, but still has some life," he says. "Then for comparison, try something like 1985 Spottswoode Cabernet, which is from a really great vintage. Both wines are somewhat available if you go to a fine wine merchant."

It's understandable that DiPierro, director of purchasing for Warner Bros. Records, would recommend Haut-Brion: His 15,000-bottle collection includes 9,000 bottles of Haut-Brion. DiPierro, who supports local charities with wine donations, has so much Haut-Brion that the chateau calls on him when it needs wines it doesn't have.

Bob Golbahar of Twenty-Twenty Wines in West Los Angeles suggests 1990 Chateau Lagrange ($35), which he calls "an amazing wine that will improve for at least a decade."

Golbahar is among the few merchants who suggest a white wine, offering 1992 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne ($55).

Jeff Nicoll of Bristol Farms in South Pasadena suggests 1991 Barnett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($24); 1991 Woodward Canyon Cabernet ($30); 1990 Chateau Sociando-Mallet ($24), and 1990 Chateau de Marbuzet ($20).

Tim Coles of Conejo Valley Wine and Provision in Thousand Oaks says: "Any 1985 California Cabernet is a must. Try to get Caymus 'Special Selection' or Shafer's 'Hillside Select.' "

He says a great older wine that may still be available is 1981 Chateau Rayas from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

David Breitstein of the Duke of Bourbon in Canoga Park says he'd have heavyweights like Duckhorn Vineyards "Three Palms" Merlot, Heitz "Martha's Vineyard" Cabernet, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, and Chateau Petrus, regardless of vintage.

"I know Petrus is expensive," says Breitstein, "but everybody should have at least a bottle of Petrus . . ."

Marty Petersil of the Flask in Studio City suggests buyers wait two months and then buy quantities of the new 1990 Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet ($32), the new 1991 Spottswoode ($36), "and, if they have the money, do Opus One ($65). It's sensational!"

Chuck Hansen of Hi-Time Cellars in Costa Mesa concurs on the Opus One. "It's a killer," he says. The wine will be released Oct. 1. Hansen also suggests 1989 Shafer Vineyards "Hillside Select" Cabernet ($26) in addition to 1992 ZD Pinot Noir ($16) and 1992 Forest Hill Vineyards "Private Reserve" Chardonnay ($26).

Steve Bialek of Los Angeles Wine Co. in West Los Angeles suggests 1991 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet ($50).

Paul Smith of Northridge Hills Liquor and Wine Warehouse recommends, among other wines, Burgundies from Claude Dugat, "just about anything from LeClerc and any Jayer Echezeaux."

He also likes Guigal's Cote Roties such as "La Mouline," and recommends an array of Super Tuscans such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Massetto.

David Dobbs of Red Carpet Wine and Spirits of Glendale says his first recommendation would be "Burgundy without a doubt, and my top four are Emanuel Rouget, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Meo-Camuzet and Leroy. And in whites, Ramonet."

Eric Hille, a Santa Monica wine merchant, suggests long gold capsule Ausleses from J.J. Prum or Fritz Haag. The current releases are $170 per bottle, each, "but worth every cent."

Hille also says: "Then I would add 1990 Armand Rousseau Chambertin ($100) and I would put in a case of 1992 Ridge Geyserville ($18)."

Gary Fishman of Wally's on Westwood Boulevard suggests any 1990 Barolo, 1986 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, the 1992 Swanson Merlot ($16), and the new 1992 Iron Horse Pinot Noir ($18).

David Russell of the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara, one of the savviest import buyers around, suggests "some of the really top-drawer Piedmontese wines of 1989 and 1990, such as Aldo Conterno, Domenico Clerico and Elio Altare." He also likes the Musigny and Bonnes-Mares of Comte de Voguuee, and the red wines of Daniel Rion.

Robert Rogness of the Wine Expo in Santa Monica, always looking for esoterica, suggested a red wine from Ca' Rome, a Barbaresco producer, whose wine called "Da Pruve" is 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Barbera. At $20, Rogness calls it a bargain. "It'll age 20 years.

"Then I'd have a case of Bollinger Special Cuvee and I'd drink a bottle every year for 12 years."

Wine of the Week

1992 Cypress Chardonnay by J. Lohr Winery ($7.75)-- I'm not a big fan of Chardonnays that are so laden with oak they smell like a tree and have such weight that they sit on the palate leadenly. So it was a long and dreary day for me recently when I blind-tasted 54 Chardonnays and found far too many of them made just that way.

Then, in the midst of the process, came this lovely wine, hinting in aroma of lime and spice, with a delicate, lean entry, ample fruit on the tongue and a crisp yet not acidic finish. The judges all scored this wine right near the top of the pack, and when tasted again later with the rest of the winners, it was judged clearly a best buy, especially since most discounters will have it for $6.50 or even less.

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