Wine Cellars, Part 2 – The Big Boys
After my intro with two modest private wine cellars from the previous post, a visit with the big guns. My three top wine cellars around the world. One from Paris France, the other in London, England and the last one representing The Americas a wine cellar in the Bahamas with close ties to Italy (the owner’s Homeland)
E’videmment we start with Good old PARIS
La Tour D’argent cellar
The wine cellar at La Tour D’argent, is one of the most extensive wine cellars in the world. The wine cellar lies beneath La Tour d’Argent Restaurant and has a special lift leading to it from the restaurant’s ground floor where you will meet “the gate keeper” he has got the keys that allows the lucky few to travel and enter the most historic and celebrated wine cellar in Paris, with treasures of unsurpassed quality and variety. It stores around 450,000 bottles of wines and spirits dating back more than two centuries. According to stories, most of the bottles were saved by Claude Terrail (the present owner’s father, whose family still owns the restaurant) from the German occupation during World War 2. Legend has it that on the night of June 14, 1940 the day the Germans entered Paris, he personally walled off (brick and plaster) part of the cellars keeping the lesser wines in sight for all to see, and most of the better wines hidden behind the newly built walls and the wine loaded on the rearranged shelves. I believe this is a true story since those greedy guzzling thieving Nazis would have surely consumed or confiscated/stolen the treasures of this legendary cellar.
The restaurant’s wine list is a heavy thick endlessly long book that lists thousands of the best wines of France each grouped perfectly by their origin / wine region and vintage year. The collection also includes Historic gems like a cognac from 1788, the year before the French Revolution, vertical collection of the Best Sauternes, Red Bordeaux’s the Best of Bourgogne both reds and whites all from estates that make wine “Properly”. The “name” of the estate is immaterial, it’s wines, made in a meticulous winemaking process, that is the pride of our cellar, says David Ridgway, the restaurant’s chief sommelier. Amongst the dusty bottles he continues are some distinctive wines which are well past their best, this is unfortunate since wines are meant to be DRUNK!
You cannot select a wine from such a comprehensive list just by a quick glance at the list. Careful reading would literally take HOURS! It details a wine selection from the 18th and 19th centuries to date and is the best wine list I have had the chance to lay my eyes upon in France, or anywhere else in the world. If you look carefully you can also find inexpensive gems such as the 2 wines we chose for our Lunch (before visiting the cellar), but we had the chance and time to select the wines well in advance at Yair’s flat which lies one floor beneath the restaurant, how convenient! They were 1986 Domaine Francois Raveneau Butteaux, Chablis Premier Cru, a 25 year old Chablis with all the fruit and acidity to keep the wine afresh yet with complexity that has developed within the wine, to equal white wines from grand cru lots around Bourgogne in the south.
The Red was: 1990 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Clos des Réas: Medium bodied brownish red, brick color, with notes of sweet red and black fruits, some sweet dried plums and figs and a wonderful earthy smell of wet mushrooms, still retaining nice acidity, vigor and a long finish. We were told it was the very last bottle of its kind in the cellar, mixed feelings from the sommelier of happiness for us a “sad” moment for a 21 year old chapter closed as the bottle was opened… Incidently I had The Quenelles de brochet “Andre’ Terrail” (Pike dumplings) baked (gratine’) in sauce Mornay, and grated cheese, fluffy light sublime. and the legendary Roasted Duckling for main course, The two Flag dishes of the restaurant.
The Clos des Réas is classified as a Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru, and is a monopole of the Gros family, since the mid 90’s vinified and marketed by Domaine Michel Gros. The vineyard was acquired by one Alphonse Gros in 1860 and has stayed within the family ever since. Above it, up the slope is the Vosne-Romanée 1er Chaumes which itself touches on the even more ‘upslope’ 1er Cru vineyard of Malconsorts and Grand Cru La Tâche.
After our perfect Lunch with my good friend Yair Haidu (who lives one floor under the restaurant) arranges a tour for us in the cellar, and the photos speak for themselves.
La tour d’argent :
Berry Bros. & Rudd Wine cellar
BBR are the oldest wine and spirit merchant in England, having traded from the same shop for over 300 years. The business was officially established in 1698 by the Widow Bourne at 3 St James’s Street in London, opposite St James’s Palace. At first the company was selling mainly overseas provisions: exotic spices, tea and coffee, around 1760 after entering the business of fines wines and quality Scotch whisky, Berrys are appointed ast suppliers of wine to the British Royal Family during the reign of King George III (1760-1820) and has continued to do so to the present day. The first Royal Warrant (seal) was awarded in 1903 by King Edward 7th and today they hold two Royal Warrants for H.M. The Queen and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.
In addition to the Finest Reserves Room, hidden beneath Berry Bros. & Rudd’s historic wine shop are the Georgian vaulted cellars which date back over 300 years, and hold around 20,000 bottles of wine, Simon Berry believes there’s a passage, (now blocked by wine racks and plastered brick work), that leads from this room to St James’ Palace (southbound across the Mall).
The company holds in their wine cellars rare wines for sale and export. Red Bordeaux wines, dating back to 1860, Tokaji Essencia dating from 1870 and later, fine wines and port and spirits dating back to the turn of the 19th century 1820 to date including all the “Important” Vintages of the 20th century of all existing wine, all tucked in behind iron gates to all the underground nooks and crannies.
Back in 1998, when I asked the Simon Berry direct descendent to the founders of the store, what are the special bottles he would select from the vast collection in the company cellars, he found it hard to answer, but gave me two stories he believes would give a fitting image to his special and wise approach to his fine wine collection : ” I believe that in most cases, it is not the wine itself but rather the event and company for which a certain wine is opened. To celebrate our 300 Jubilee we invited for lunch eighty Chateaux Owners, with whom BBR had working relations relations for centuries, here at No. 3 St. James’s we served:
Chateau Langoa Barton Saint Julien 1982, Chateau Cos d’Estournel Saint Estephe 1970, Chateau Haut Brion Pessac Leognan 1961, and Porto Quinta do Noval Nacional.1954 (“the last 2 receiving prolonged applauses from the all attending”).
The second story Yesterday we invited for lunch one of our most veteran of Berry customer (since 1935) enabling us to give him the first wine ordeal from us In 1935, the Chateau Margaux 1926 we have it now only in half bottles, and although the wine is already old and tired, it was still a great way to celebrate our long-lasting relations .
The building of the palace laid the foundations for the development of the entire area and by 1662 Henry Jermyn had begun his ambitious building programme, starting with St James’s Square. A small row of houses had been built along the eastern side of what is now St James’s Street and it was in number three that a lady we know as ‘the Widow Bourne’ lived. (from BBR site)
In 1698 the Widow Bourne she set up business at number three, buying the famous coffee scales and the mill – that are still in the shop today. There’s a leather bound book complete with records of customers’ weights spanning three centuries.
Someone once said that if you’re not included in the Scales book at BBR will not be included in the “Who’s Who” list of the London society., Around 1760 William Pickering Jr. & John Clark’s (George Berry grandfather) offer their customers the “sublime experience ” Know Your weight, the names and weight of each person is entered in a Registry which reveals the names of visitors through the history of the century 18, 19, and the 20″ registered here kings and nobles from around Europe, the sons of King GEORGE The 3rd, all relatives of Queen Victoria, Lord Byron, The architect, John NASH (who designed the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and Buckingham Palace & most of Regent Street), Lord Melbourne Prime Minister and personal friend of Queen Victoria, Lord Balfour, Anthony Eden, George Cruikshank the illustrator of Charles Dickens books, Louis Philippe, King of France after the revolution, Prince Louis Napoleon, theater and film stars such as Lawrence Olivier , Vivian Leigh, Michael Redgrave, Gertrude Lawrence and others.
Berry Bros & Rudd: ADDRESS: 3 St James’s Street, St James’s, London SW1A 1EG. TELEPHONE: 0870 900 4300
Graycliff Hotel, Restaurant
Graycliff’s Wine Cellar is world renowned. The wine list has won the Wine Spectator’s best wine list, Grand Award since 1988. The wine cellar has an inventory of over 250,000 bottles of fine wine from 15 different countries.
The cellar is a fulfillment of Enrico Garzaroli (the owner) passion for wine and Cuban Cigars: “Over the years, my passion for fine wine has grown, and today, Graycliff’s cellar stores around 250,000 bottles, with 3,000 different wines from over 400 vintners and 15 countries”. the inventory ranges from such wines as an 1865 Château Lafite, to the oldest and a prize bottle of 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein from Bremen Ratskeller in the “Rheinghau” Region, to today’s most significant wines and vintages.
Graycliff’s wine list and cellar receives The Grand Award Restaurant Wine List since1988. This award is given to restaurants that show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine list and inventory.
As we descend one flight of wooden stairs leading down to the basement, Enrico pulls out the key to the cellar, it is stuffed with wine cases from all over, from anywhere in the world Old and New, Europe Australia and the America’s. It is a 6,000 square foot labyrinth has of small rooms branching off the hallways piled high with unopened cases and shelves of wines from top to bottom.
There is a Vertical collection of most of Chateau D’Yquem wines from the 1875 vintage on to the present days. (A somehow “must” for a cellar of this caliber)
It was New Years Eve of 1996 as we sat down we were served a champagne cocktail made from 1976 Dom Perignon champagne and 50 years old cognac. On New year’s eve they stop at nothing to make this occasion / Bahamas Junkanoo a feast to remember. We take the 80 page wine list (it’s 125 pages long now) and sit by the pool to choose our wines. With list like that this is not an ordinary matter.
There are Chateau Latour 1911, Haut Brion 1924 50 vintages of Lafite, 1858 Chateau Gruaud Larose and others all at thousands of $ a bottle. We opted for white we chose the Francois Raveneau Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 1976 which was so delicious and fresh at 20 years of age. The color is golden yellow, without its greenish hints of youth Refined nose with flavours of ripe peach and apricots, preserved lemon or orange peel and honey, with floral touch of lily and freesia On the day, a wine of incomparable quality and finess. A great wine, perhaps the one most able to express what the terroir of Chablis really is.
The Foie gras came with a glass of Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 1975 which was a divine, Nectar of Botrytized honey and iced orange peel.
For red we took the affordable Chateau Talbot 1975 which had Light-medium garnet color with some tinges of brown. Nose of red and blackcurrants, and dried cherry aromas with hints of mushroom, earthy notes . ripe plum flavors on the palate with some earthy tones a hint of coffee and tobacco, the tannins rounded and well blended in the overall balance with enough acidity to express the fruits. (went extremely well with the saddle of Lamb)
To wrap it all up we celebrated the countdown to the new year with a glass of 1976 Dom Perignon champagne.
We did not go out for the Jankanoo (Local fancy dress Carnival) it came in to us and with it each and every guest was rolled on site his very own cigar different cigars and flavours for different guests, this certainly called for our very last lavish move we ordered Armagnac’s from 4 different Vintages 1896,1918,1928 1934 what a joy of smoothness and subtlety.
Thanks Enrico, the Garzaroli Family, Husdon Clarke, Willie Armstrong, and all at Graycliff.
Graycliff Hotel, Restaurant & Cigar Company 8-12 West Hill Street Nassau Bahamas West Hill St, Nassau N 10246, Bahamas (242) 302-9150
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