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Wine Collectors: A Field Guide

The Burgundy freak, the Bordeaux geek...How to spot the five most common types of obsessive stockpiler. Plus, the bottles they're dying to add to their cellars.

The Burgundy Collector
Attributes
Age
49 Most Likely To Be A fund manager for Shearson Lehman. Drives A BMW; recently installed nifty CD carousel in trunk. Favorite Tv Show The West Wing, because it reminds him of the sweet prosperity of the Clinton years. Most Often Heard Saying "Can you get me into the trade tastings?" Cellar Is Located In pristine, humidity-conditioned basement.

Background on Burgundy
This famous winemaking region, locate d between Lyon and Dijon, is home to some of the greatest reds (Pinot Noir) and whites (Chardonnay) in the world. Gamay is grown here too; the wine is called Beaujolais.

Star producers
Domaine Joseph Roty Monsieur Roty is known as one of the most outspoken and eccentric men in Burgundy. (If you talk too much in Burgundy, they call you eccentric.) He makes distinct, dark, unfiltered wines that stand out from the pack. They may take years to develop, but a Roty in a good year, like 1985, can be nothing short of remarkable. Domaine Ponsot Third-generation winemaker Laurent Ponsot gave up his job at a travel agency to take over the family business. It was a good move. Ponsot makes an unfiltered Burgundy that some say can last 30 years in the cellar. Domaine Anne Gros After buying the vineyard from her father, François, winemaker Anne Gros quickly made a name for herself by producing markedly unusual Burgundies: big, dense and highly extracted. In other words, not your average fruity Pinot Noir. Collectors flocked.

Vintage wish list
1990 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti la Tâche Year in, year out, La Tâche stands out as the giant among red Burgundies. Prices keep rising with its reputation, however, and at auction a bottle can easily set you back four figures. 1996 Domaine Vincent Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet A few years back, Anne-Claude Leflaive turned organic, eschewing all pesticides. The move only increased the buzz among collectors, who regularly clamor for her elegant white Burgundies. 1995 Domaine Claude Dugat Griotte-Chambertin The only bad thing about Claude Dugat's wine is how little is available. Collectors know his 1995 Griotte for its superb quality and its rarity: A mere four barrels were produced.

Vintage to avoid
Any wine from the 1994 vintage.

The Bordeaux Collector
Attributes
Age 54 Most Likely to Be On the board of Pfizer. Drives A vintage Jaguar. Favorite TV Show Loves that Lou Dobbs. Passion Besides Wine Work. Prefers to Drink his Wines with A rare porterhouse steak.

Background on Bordeaux
Located on France's southwest coast, this region is divided into the Right and Left banksof the Gironde River. Wines are rarely made from a single grape but rather from a blend of several. Reds may include the following grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Whites are predominantly a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Star Producers
Château Pétrus The king of Pomerol and the gold standard in Bordeaux; considered too fine to merely drink. Bucru-Beaucaillou The rich terroir of this St-Julien château is evident even in the name-a reference to the "beautiful pebbles" of the vineyard. You have to have a few pebbles of your own to afford the best vintages, which usually require at least a decade of cellaring. Pichon-Lalande Madame de Lencquesaing pours a healthy dose of Merlot into her legendary second-growth wine, which makes it famously soft. It's one reason why, after 300 years, Pichon-Lalande remains the most popular house in Pauillac.

Vintage Wish List
1982 Lafite-Rothschild So celebrated is this vintage that La Samanna, a resort in St. Martin in the French West Indies, advertises that it has the world's only known stock. 1989 or 1990 Pétrus Both vintages got a 100-point score from renowned wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., making them the most sought-after Pétruses in years. 1982 Le Pin It didn't take long for the Thienpont family, who bought this tiny vineyard in 1979, to make what many consider a perfect wine. Expect to pay at least $2,000 a bottle.

Vintage To Avoid
Any wine from the years 1991 through 1993.

The Italian Collector
Attributes
Age 44 Most Likely to Be A doctor with a thriving ear, nose and throat practice. Drives A Volvo. Prefers to Drink his Wines with People who can pronounce the names. Cellar is Located At a minimall (rents storage space for $59 a month).

Background on Italy
The two most important wine regions for collectors are Piedmont and Tuscany, although other regions such as Sardinia, Campania and Alto Adige are now producing several widely acclaimed, potentially collectible wines. In Piedmont, the Nebbiolo grape reigns supreme, responsible for both Barolo and Barbaresco. In Tuscany, the so-called Super-Tuscans are made of various grapes, most often blends incorporating Sangiovese--although Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah also star.

Star Producers
Sassicaia A brilliant name: "The Sassicaia" sounds like a lost tribe of Indians. But the Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon is legendary for its incredible longevity, and for the hefty prices it brings at auction. Angelo Gaja Piedmontese winemaker Angelo Gaja is one of the most important figures in Italian wine. His 1997 Barbaresco Sorì Tildinis renowned as a flawless Nebbiolo; in fact, some consider it one of the greatest Gaja wines ever. Quintarelli Giuseppe Quintarelli is something of a madman/genius, who makes great Cabernet Franc--in, of all places, the Veneto.

Vintage Wish List
1990 Barolos and Barbarescos One of the best vintages of the century; you can put these wines down for decades. Collectors look for Barolo names like Cannubi and Castellero, and Barbarescos like Montefico and Montestefano. 1998 Tua Rita Redigaffi Owners Rita Tua and Virgilio Bisti began making this limited-production, all-Merlot wine in the early '90s. They scored an instant hit with collectors, who scour the earth for their 125-case production. 1990 Giacamo Conterno Barolo Artisanally made Barolo that could last to the midcentury mark. If you can't get Giacamo's, look for brother Aldo's wines. Also, look for almost any 1997 Wine from Tuscany.

Vintage to Avoid
Any bottle from the 1993 vintage.

The California Collector
Attributes
Age 35 Most Likely to Be A Web consultant. Drives An SUV. Favorite TV Show Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Passion Besides Wine Filling out annual Zagat questionnaire. Most often Heard Saying "Show me the scores." Prefers to Drink his Wines In restaurants with no corkage fee. Cellar is Located All over the house: under the bed, in the linen closet or in the garage.

Background on California

Napa and Sonoma are pretty much the exclusive provenance of collectible California wines; the crucial grapes are Cabernet and Chardonnay, although there are a few important Syrahs and Zinfandels.

 

Star Producers
Ridge The Zinfandels from this winery are fine, but it's the Monte Bello Cabernet you want. Opus One While some say the legendary Mondavi-Rothschild creation is overpriced and overrated, collectors don't seem to agree. Caymus Although their regular Cabernets will do just fine, try to get hold of the Special Selection. Chateau Montelena It was a Montelena Chardonnay that helped put California wine on the map in 1976, when French judges in a blind Paris tasting declared the American Chardonnay superior to their own white Burgundies. But Montelena reds are the stars these days, with a reputation for Bordeaux-like durability. (Wait 10 to 15 years to drink.)

Vintage Wish List
1994 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Has it been only six years since real estate broker Jean Phillips put her Cabernets on the market? In that short time, they've become the benchmark cult wine: much dreamed about, fiercely bid over and rarely drunk. A bottle at auction will run you a cool $1,100. 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia The 1974 Insignia was the first-ever Bordeaux-style wine made in California. The 1997 is one-tenth the price of a Screaming Eagle and every bit as good. 1997 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon How is it that Bill Harlan, a man who spent years living on a houseboat, knew the terroir of Napa so well that he could produce the quintessential California cult Cabernet? You won't find a bottle of Harlan Estate for under $600. 1997 Sine Qua Non Imposter McCoy Austrian Manfred Krankl and his wife, Elaine, make this incredible, bold (some say wild) Syrah in a small warehouse next to a junkyard in Southern California.

Vintage to Avoid
1993.

The Eclectic Collector
Attributes
Age 38 Most Likely to Be A restaurant owner. Drives A VW Beetle. Prefers to Drink her Wines with Stir-fried Thai eggplant or anything she can get at the Greenmarket.

Background on the Eclectic Collection
The Eclectic Collector loves wines from "everywhere": New World (Australia, Argentina) and Old (Spain, Portugal). The grapes are accordingly diverse, from Shiraz to Tempranillo.

Star Producers
Robert Weil The Japanese conglomerate Suntory may have invested in this German operation, but the estate managed to keep its family roots, with young Wilhelm Weil a fourth-generation winemaker. His Rieslings are some of the most consistent and longest-lasting wines the Eclectic Collector can settle on. Trevor Jones The ardently-searched-for Shiraz from this Australian winery, the Hatrick, has become a cult wine. And you can still get a bottle for less than $50. Graham's Vintage Ports Graham's ports can be bigger, sweeter and arguably longer-lived than other ports. Collectors, of course, will accept only vintage-designated bottles. Bodegas Vega Sicilia This celebrated Spanish winery parcels out its much-sought-after Ribero del Duero reds through an elaborate system that resembles an old-fashioned social club. If you want to be on the list, it helps to be the King of Spain.

Vintage Wish List
1988 Château d'Yquem The greatest sweet wine in the world, with a near-eternal shelf life. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Monsieur d'Yquem looking for a few bottles. Two centuries later, 1988 proved a banner year for d'Yquem. You could drink this wine anytime in the next half century. 1990 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling One of Germany's finest producers, the Selbach family has been making great Rieslings since the seventeenth century. Johannes Selbach has made magic with the 1990 vintage. 1998 D'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz This great Australian has everything the Eclectic Collector wants: a weird name and a price--$60--that's high but not outrageous and guaranteed to rise.

Jim Nelson is GQ's assistant managing editor.

Published October 2001
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