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stirring the lees with james molesworth

How Wines Stay in My Cellar

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 15, 2006 10:36am ET

In the last month or so, I've sent a few cases of wine off to auction. If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever sell these off—Harlan, Kistler, Dalla Valle—I would've said "never," having collected them and drunk them over nearly a decade's worth of vintages.

It's not as if their quality failed to live up to their reputation—the wines are excellent. Instead, it's the relationship I have with the wine that's changed.

For me, there's more to choosing wines that go into my personal cellar than just quality. Sure, you might think it's easy for me—I taste thousands of wines a year and know what my scores are before anyone else. But, to avoid any perception of conflict, I don't buy wines right before the reviews are published. And, assuming I'm not on the winery's mailing list, I buy at retail, paying full markup like everyone else. (So I feel your pain out there, trust me, I do.)

Consequently, the wines that make it into my cellar aren’t for speculation. What makes it into my cellar—and what stays in my cellar—are wines that I have a connection with.

Making that connection can be done in different ways, such as a visit to the vineyard or a meeting with the winemaker. Along the lines of the old adage that a wine always tastes better in the region it was made in—for me, a wine always tastes better after I've kicked the dirt that the grapes were grown in. I make a connection with a wine when I really know where it comes from, how it gets into the bottle and who is really behind it.

It probably comes as no surprise that as the Rhône has absorbed more of my time in recent years, I've made more of a connection to those wines—and maintained the connection. In contrast, after making annual trips to Napa for a few years running, I haven't been there in over four years now. My connection to the region is fading, and so is my connection to some of the wines.

So in going through my cellar recently, I realized I could sell a bottle of Harlan and buy a full case of top-quality Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That reality, combined with my fading connection to the one wine and the burgeoning one with the other, made a decision I wouldn't have thought possible just a few years ago suddenly rather easy.

It's always a little sad to say good-bye to a friend, but relationships fade in and out over time while new ones spring up. The same simply holds true for me and the bottles in my cellar.

Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  December 15, 2006 12:03pm ET
James your the same age as myself so I'm curious when you became interested in wine and started your wine cellar? I've only begun buying/collecting wine a few years ago so the majority of my wine is young.
James Molesworth
December 15, 2006 12:12pm ET
Karl: My first gig in the wine business started nearly 15 years ago, as a cellar rat for a retailer. My interest in wine started my second day on the job when the store owner opened a '90 Chambertin Clos de Beze from Bruno Clair.

I've been buying whatever I could afford (and sometimes what I can't afford) ever since...
Neil Koffler
New York, NY —  December 15, 2006 12:26pm ET


James-

I'm not at all surprised that you are selling these wines. I wouldn't view it as an emotional connection at all. Their market value has disconnected from their consumable value. You'd rather own wines that you are willing to drink for the price.

That is rational, not emotional.

Neil
John B Vlahos
Cupertino Ca. —  December 15, 2006 1:38pm ET
Your observations reflect how extraneous factors such as pleasant memories of the settings at the wineries and warm hospitality at the tasting rooms can influence your appreciation of their wines. That's why it is imperative that judging wines should be blind, devoid of outside influences. John B. Vlahos
Steve Barber
Clayton, CA. —  December 15, 2006 2:55pm ET
I love the blog and agree with your observation. Next time your in SF, I'd like to offer a round of golf and a tasting from my cellar. My club is Oakhurst C.C. in Clayton. It's amazing how a memorable round of golf can heighten the senses with wine after a good round!
James Molesworth
December 15, 2006 4:44pm ET
Steve: I'm filing a vacation request with Marvin right now...!
Richard Robertson
Charleston, SC —  December 15, 2006 9:28pm ET
Have no regrets about selling these trophies, as a wine-shop owner once told me, buy these individual bottles now, and they will fund your future drinking for many years. Well in my case it turned out to be months, or, well who am I kidding, days. This is no different than investing in the stock market as it will fund many accomplishments in the future.
Daniel Villiers
Boston, MA —  December 16, 2006 9:21am ET
I understand your thoughts about trading in relatively-good...but-rare-and-famous Californians for a consistent and delicious Chateauneuf du Pape. My heaven right now is a young spicy '04 Chateauneuf (anything form Paul Autard will do the trick and not break the bank), with a spicy lamb curry.
David A Zajac
December 17, 2006 6:58am ET
I too have gone through that same phase, and I too am spending much more of my time and money in the Rhone and Burgundy and less in Bordeaux and Napa. About the only Cali wines I am actively seeking these days are the Central Coast syrah's, which resemble ripe versions of Rhone wines...notice the trend? My first love, Cabs, seems to be somewhat fading...Give me a bottle of Sabon, Pegau, Clos des Pape, Alban, Saxun or SQN, all of which can be had for under $75 or so and you can keep the $500 Harlan's.
Robert Caruana Jr
East Islip, NY —  December 18, 2006 2:31pm ET
I am currently going through a similar phase and realizing that nearly all of these $100+ bottles I have been trying lately rarely live up to my expectations. It's not that they aren't good (or even great), its just that I seem to expect an unbelievable experience every time I pay that kind of money for a bottle of wine; right or wrong. I always seem to focus on a great bottle that I'd had recently costing $25/bottle or $50/bottle and say to myself that I would rather have 4 bottles of the $25/bottle stuff or 2 bottles of the $50/bottle stuff rather than the $100 bottle. I guess it's all relative to what you view as "expensive" for a bottle of wine.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  December 19, 2006 4:40pm ET
I just made my first iteration of the same sort through my cellar. I jettisoned a good quantity of Cali Pinot to a retailer and banked most of the change, though I did pick up a few Cali Syrahs to take their places.
David Allen
Lufkin, Texas —  January 2, 2007 10:24pm ET
Yup James. Most do pay retail and some mailing lists and will sell down the road like you did.

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