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(2011-08-22 22:17:51)


How to Buy: Rare Wines ( from WSJ.com)
A status wine certainly runs you less than a De Kooning, but unlike priceless art, a coveted vintage once enjoyed is gone forever. Unearthing these endangered jewels can be tricky, but a few choice experts light the way

As one of this country's top wine consultants, Robert Bohr often has to drop everything in order to schlep off to Alaska to serve as the personal sommelier on one of his clients' fishing trips, or helicopter off to the Hamptons to decant an extravagant host's dinner-party choices. There's also the more serious stuff of prospecting for special bottles; husbanding his clients' collections; selling off their wines at the right time; and dealing with the increasing challenge of snapping up older vintages for them. Such was the time when the phone rang and it was the restaurateur Joe Bastianich on the other end.

'Joe had a good friend with a multibillion-dollar Las Vegas casino business and a bad situation,' Bohr says. 'On premise was a wine whale'-a phrase adapted from the casino-industry term for a high roller, used for a certain kind of status-wine drinker-'from China who would only drink 1985 Romanée-Conti. The casino owner was in a pickle and needed two magnums. Now, Romanée-Conti with age is not exactly something that you go to the grocery store for, and it's even difficult to find them at auction. But I never say no to Joe, because he always treats me right.' Fortunately, Bohr had obtained some for another client and persuaded that client to relinquish the magnums as a favor. Within 24 hours, FedEx delivered the Romanée-Conti to the whale.

A more common and typically less complicated request is to source a birth-year wine. A client appealed to Paul Wasserman, head of the wine shop The Wine Hotel in Los Angeles, to find a bottle for chef Thomas Keller. 'We had to dig up a birth-year wine for Keller as a gift upon the opening of Bouchon Beverly Hills. The gift giver couldn't spend a fortune.' In the end Keller received a 1955 Certan de May, a wine that currently runs about $800 for a bottle in good condition.

For wine buyers, a consultant can be more important than cash. Anyone with enough money can buy a case of 2009 Cheval Blanc (about $12,000 for one of 6,000 cases produced) and wait for delivery in 2012. Buyers looking for stellar wines that are ready to drink now might need to enlist the help of some well-placed contacts as well.

The normal route for snaring rare and coveted items is auction. (Not everyone can link into a Bohr or Wasserman, someone who can make their score on the inside, far away from the gavel.) Some of the auction houses like Christie's are seeing a new crop of young buyers coming in with their friends for older bottles. Meanwhile, many mature collectors are shunning auction for a more intimate route. One Connecticut man, who has 7,000 bottles to his name, explained his aversion to auction: 'Between hedge-fund types trying to outdo each other plus auction fees and New York taxes, I find they are bad value.' He shops internationally and won't divulge more than one of his most recent scores-a 1961 JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. The wine had surfaced only once in recent history, in 2005 at wine auctioneer Acker Merrall & Condit, for $379. He paid significantly less, he said, for a bottle that came from 'an English gentleman's cellar.' He worked hard for access and he isn't giving over the goods. Nothing short of waterboarding would get a collector to name his contacts, and they're equally reluctant to be identified themselves. 'If it becomes known how to get great wines,' a prominent source in the New York scene says, 'then others will do the same thing and what will be left over for the rest of us?'

Should you choose to enter the obsessive world of wine collecting, you'll need to start schmoozing the right people. One great place to begin is the Bouilland Burgundy Symposia, a wine boot camp held three or four times per year that can cost over $10,000 to attend. This marvelously intimate indulgence was founded by wine importer Becky Wasserman, the ultimate Burgundy insider, and is led by the likes of wine critics Allen Meadows, Anthony Hanson and Clive Coates. If you're a good guest, and Wasserman and her husband, Russell Hone, take a liking to you, you've found your perfect, priceless mentors.

Another great source is a working sommelier. Find one you have a rapport with and then get him on your side. You might begin with recommendations from his list, buying expensive and rare, and allowing him nice gulps to start. Top restaurants with wine lists thick in older vintages, like The French Laundry in California and Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, are obvious places to find influential sommeliers, but consider the whole wine staff. (Some of Bohr's clients today were his customers when he was a captain at Gramercy Tavern in New York.) They can invite you to tastings, train your palate better than a wine class, and educate you on new and old releases.

Tim Kopec, who presides over the list at New York City restaurant Veritas, is generous with his suggestions. Even if you don't buy at auction, he recommends going to the pre-auction BYOB dinners. 'You meet a lot of people,' Kopec says. 'A lot of good wine gets passed around.' Ask the sommelier working who's the biggest collector in the room and send him a glass of something truly special that you've brought. This is like asking the best tango dancer in the room for a spin, so don't bring a bottle of Bordeaux less than 20 years old or some brand-new California cult wine, because you'll be marked as an ignoramus.

Of course, some missteps are rites of passage for all collectors, but there are safe havens. Specialty shops such as London's Antique-wine.com are good for older vintages, and in Paris, the posh new Bordeauxthèque is getting a lot of traffic. The 2,500-square-foot space tucked into the Galeries Lafayette flagship is the world's largest Bordeaux boutique. A joint venture with the Duclot Group, owned by the Moueix family (of Bordeaux wine estate Pétrus), Bordeauxthèque has become a prime target for vintage-happy tourists from Asia and Russia. The store's heart is a marble and alabaster rotunda, a rainbow of verticals that they promise come directly from the cellars of the château itself. This is a key point: When you're dealing with $27,000 for a 1945 Mouton Rothschild, a guarantee of authenticity, in this world of faux bottles, is a nice comfort. Another popular Paris shop is Lionel Michelin's De Vinis Illustribus. Once the spot where Hemingway bought his wines, the boutique is understated and devoted to the charms of older wine. Michelin's current headache is not getting futures for Bordeaux, but finding enough good wine from the lousy vintage of 1960 to make his customers who are turning 50 happy (1960 Château Chalon is one on his radar).

Unlike an exquisite painting or a strand of natural pearls, both of which tend to survive dinner parties intact, top wines are finite and ersatz bottles are rampant. Kopec, the Veritas sommelier, has begun to consult around the world, and one of his duties is keeping his clients' wine purchases authentic. 'If all you want is 1982 Pétrus or 1947 Cheval Blanc, two of the most knocked-off bottles out there, you've got to watch out,' Kopec says. 'If you're new, you're an easy mark for the unscrupulous.'

In wine as in the stock market, it makes sense to diversify. One does not live by status wines alone. Yet many clients are resistant. Paul Wasserman, for example, loves Château Chalon and vins jaunes, the oxidized wines from the Jura. 'We joke in Los Angeles that it's crack,' he says. 'The wines are just exciting, but getting a client to buy some-even though a bottle of the Puffeney '02 will be $80, cheap by most standards-it's a hard sell. But people like what they like.'
Photograph by Toby McFarlan Pond; Styling by Noemi Bonazzi

瓶好的葡萄酒给人带来的心灵冲击当然比不上抽象表现主义大师德•库宁(De Kooning)的作品,但与无价的艺术品不同,一瓶梦寐以求的好酒一旦被享用,就永远消失了。发现珍稀葡萄酒的道路可能一波三折,但好在有几位选酒专家能为我们答疑解惑。

作为美国顶级的葡萄酒顾问,波尔(Robert Bohr)常常得放下手头的一切,驱车前往阿拉斯加给自己客户的钓鱼之旅当私人酒侍,或坐上直升机飞往汉普顿(Hamptons),为某豪华晚宴选定的葡萄酒换瓶。此外,还有一些更严肃的事情,如评测几款葡萄酒的好坏,为客户管理其葡萄酒藏品、帮助客户选择在合适的时点卖出藏品、在越来越激烈的市场中为其抢购年份久远的佳酿。就在忙着上述这些事情的时候,波尔接到餐厅老板乔伊•巴斯提亚尼奇(Joe Bastianich)打来的一个电话。

波尔说,乔伊有个好友,在拉斯维加斯投资数十亿美元开了一个赌场,现在遇到了一点问题。赌场来了位“酒鲸”(wine whale,这个词是赌场对于狂热赌徒的一种称呼的变称,指很会品酒的人),是个中国人,说只喝1985年份的罗曼尼•康帝(Romane-Conti)。赌场老板很为难,急需两瓶酒应急。但这种年份的康帝不是街边小店就能买到的,连拍卖会上都很难找到它们的踪影。不过,我从不拒绝乔伊,因为他对我一直很好。幸运的是,波尔为一个客户采购过几瓶康帝,并劝说那人帮忙让出两瓶。24小时之内,联邦快递(FedEx)将康帝送到了那位酒鲸的手中。

Photograph by Toby McFarlan Pond; Styling by Noemi Bonazzi
如今有一种更普遍但没那么复杂的需求是寻找一瓶生日年份的葡萄酒。有个客户向洛杉矶The Wine Hotel葡萄酒商店的负责人保罗•沃塞曼(Paul Wasserman)提出请求,希望能为名厨托马斯•凯勒(Thomas Keller)找到一瓶酒。客户说,我们得为凯勒找到一瓶他生日年份的葡萄酒,作为其比弗利山勃逊餐厅(Bouchon Beverly Hills)的开业礼物,而送礼的人不想花太多的钱。最后,凯勒收到了一瓶1955年份的迪美庄园(Certan de May),这种葡萄酒保存良好的话目前售价800美元。

对葡萄酒买家来说,一个好的顾问比金钱更重要。任何一个有钱人都能买下一整箱2009年份的白马庄园(Cheval Blanc)葡萄酒(每年产量6,000箱,每箱售价约12,000美元),并等待2012年到货。但如果想要买到马上就能喝的好年份的名贵葡萄酒,可能需要有很好的网络关系才能如愿以偿。

获得那些珍稀而令人梦寐以求的葡萄酒的常见途径是通过拍卖会。(不是每个人都能联系上波尔或沃塞曼,他们这样的专家能自己评判葡萄酒的价值,而不用通过拍卖的小木槌。)佳士得(Christie's)等拍卖行发现,现在有不少年轻的新买家和朋友一起涌入拍卖会,寻找年份久远的佳酿。与此同时,许多资深收藏家离开拍卖会,转而选择更私人化的寻酒方式。康涅狄格州有个人收藏了7,000瓶葡萄酒,他解释自己不通过拍卖会买酒的原因是:在拍卖会上竞价就像对冲基金互相攀比竞争一样,价格一路上扬,再加上拍卖佣金和纽约州的税负,我发现这样买酒很不划算。他在国际范围寻找佳酿,只愿意向我们透露最近刚刚寻得的一款好酒──1961年份的普朗酒庄日冕园薏丝琳甜白(JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese)。最近,这种酒只在2005年于名酒拍卖行Acker Merrall & Condit中现身过一次,当时售价379美元。他说自己找到的这瓶要便宜得多,来自于一位英国绅士的酒窖。他想方设法才与那位绅士搞好关系,因此不愿意公开这一渠道。要想让收藏家说出自己的收货渠道,非得严刑逼供才行,而且他们也不愿意让别人知道自己的身份。纽约一位资深人士说,如果谁都知道怎么找到好的葡萄酒,大家就会一窝蜂而上,那我们这些人就连残羹冷炙都吃不上了。

如果你选择进入令人欲罢不能的葡萄酒收藏领域,就得开始结交正确的朋友。一个很好的起点是布雅朗勃艮第座谈会(Bouilland Burgundy Symposia),这个红酒界的新兵营每年举行三到四次,要交10,000美元以上才能参加。该座谈会是葡萄酒进口商、勃艮第葡萄酒的终极专家贝基•沃塞曼(Becky Wasserman)一手创建的,是一场愉悦而又亲切的葡萄酒教学盛会,由葡萄酒评论家米多斯(Allen Meadows)、汉森(Anthony Hanson)和寇奇士(Clive Coates)联袂主持。如果你能赢得沃塞曼和她丈夫荷恩(Russell Hone)的好感,那就找到了两位完美无缺、堪称无价之宝的葡萄酒导师。

另一个很好的渠道是结识职业酒侍。找一个与你性情相投的酒侍,然后让他成为你的战友。你可以根据他推荐的酒单,买一些价格不菲的稀有葡萄酒,让他开始对你产生好感。加州French Laundry和芝加哥Charlie Trotter等顶级餐厅拥有众多年份久远的佳酿,在那里显然能找到颇具影响力的酒侍,但你也应该向那里任何一个从事葡萄酒服务的人虚心求教。(波尔现在的一些客户是他在纽约Gramercy Tavern餐厅工作时的用餐客人。)他们会邀请你品尝葡萄酒,提供比葡萄酒培训班更好的训练你味蕾的机会,并告诉你哪些酒是新出的,哪些是以前的。

科帕克(Tim Kopec)是纽约Veritas餐厅的酒侍,他总是很慷慨地给人提供各种建议。即使你不在拍卖会买酒,他也建议你去参加拍卖前的自带酒(BYOB)晚宴。科帕克说,你会遇到很多人,有很多好的葡萄酒被传来传去。你可以问晚宴上的酒侍谁是现场最大的收藏家,并给那人送去一杯你购买的确实很特别的葡萄酒。这就像是邀请最棒的探戈舞者与你共舞一曲,因此不要带一瓶年份少于20年的波尔多(Bordeaux),或一些刚发售的加州新派葡萄酒(cult wine,指那些质量高、产量小、价格昂贵的酒),不然你会被冠以无知之徒的称号。

诚然,看走眼是收藏家成长道路上必经的坎坷,但也有一些安全的避风港。一些专卖店,如伦敦的Antique-wine.com,专门出售上好的陈酿;在巴黎,新开的Bordeaux egrave专卖店装饰豪华,吸引了大量的客流量。Bordeaux egrave位于老佛爷百货(Galeries Lafayette)旗舰店中,占地240平方米,是全世界最大的波尔多专卖店。它是拥有法国波尔多产区柏图斯庄园(Petrus)的莫意克家族(Moueix)与法国著名佳酿集团Duclot Group合资成立并控股的,现已成为亚洲和俄罗斯爱酒人士的游览必选之地。专卖店的核心区域是一个大理石圆形大厅,拱形穹庐的材料据说直接取自柏图斯庄园的城堡。这是一个关键的亮点:当你花27,000美元买一瓶1945年份的木桐•罗斯柴尔德(Mouton Rothschild)时,建筑物的历史真实性能让你在这个假酒横行的世界感受到一种安全感。巴黎另一个热门的葡萄酒专卖店是米其林(Lionel Michelin)开的De Vinis Illustribus。这间酒坊很低调,只卖年代久远的陈酿,著名作家海明威(Hemingway)曾在这里采购自己喝的葡萄酒。眼下,米其林面临的难题不是能否订到波尔多的期酒,而是在乏善可陈的1960年葡萄酒中,找到足够多的佳酿,以迎合那些即将步入50岁的顾客的需求。1960年份的夏龙城堡(Chateau Chalon)是他看中的一款。


投资葡萄酒就像投资股市一样,都应该多元化以分散风险,毕竟一个人不能只靠名贵葡萄酒活着。不过,很多人喜欢坚持自己的固有选择。比如说,保罗•沃塞曼喜欢夏龙城堡(Chateau Chalon)葡萄酒,还有一种来自法国汝拉(Jura)产区经氧化的黄葡萄酒。沃塞曼说,在洛杉矶的时候,我们开玩笑说推荐葡萄酒令人抓狂。品酒是一个激动人心的过程,但要让客户买下来却很不容易。即使只是一瓶2002年份的皮孚内(Puffeney),售价不过80美元,以大多数标准来看都算是便宜的,但还是很难得到酒客的认可。人们总是青睐于他们原本就喜欢的葡萄酒。


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