Antonio "L.A." Reid, 53, is the chairman of the Island Def Jam Music Group, where he oversees the careers of such musical artists as Mariah Carey, Kanye West and the band Bon Jovi. He sits in the boardroom these days, but Reid got his start as a musician and songwriter. He and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds played in a band together before founding LaFace records, and the two have won Grammy awards for songwriting and production. Reid is also passionate about wine—he has a 2000-bottle cellar in his Long Island, N.Y., home. Reid recently spoke with Wine Spectator about blind tasting, cult wines and his dream of owning a vineyard.
Wine Spectator: How did you get into wine?
L.A. Reid: It was completely by accident. I bought a home [in Atlanta] that had an empty 200-bottle wine rack in it. I called a local wine merchant and I said, "I need 200 bottles of wine." This was probably about 12 or 13 years ago. Chefs would come by and say, "Oh, you have this or that," and I didn’t know what it all was. Someone said, "Well, you've got Caymus, but you've got the wrong one. You need the Special Selection."
WS: Can you pinpoint a time where it really started clicking? A particular bottle or region that got you hooked?
LAR: We had dinner one night in Atlanta [at Pricci] and we had a 1961 Château Latour. After tasting it, I was hooked. That was it.
I owned a couple of restaurants in Atlanta. When I sold the restaurants, I brought the wine inventory to my house [on Long Island] to put in my cellar. Over time, I pruned it out and got it organized. Going through that organizing phase and starting to socialize with people who really loved wine—that’s when it started to come together for me.
WS: What's in your cellar now?
LAR: There are basically two countries: California from the U.S., and France. I have some bottles of Italian wine, but I love the California Cults and I love the French, particularly the white Burgundies. I love Labouré Roi Corton-Charlemagne and Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet. My California favorites? There's this new one, Scarecrow. I love the Harlans, the Colgin. The California Chardonnays, I have some good ones—Aubert and Kistler. I think I've found my true passion with white Burgundy and California Cabernets.
WS: Are you still going through the restaurant inventory?
LAR: No, that's mostly cleaned out. I replaced all of it except for a few choice bottles. I give wine away at the City of Hope Taste of Hope annual wine dinner and auction. I gave about 50 or 60 bottles this year. I pick them out personally.
WS: On a regular night, what are you pulling out to drink?
LAR: I never drink bad wine. And I never drink cheap wine. I don't drink wine because it's expensive, but I've found the things that I like. Recently I tried Levy & McClellan and I thought it was amazing. The one thing that I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy is Screaming Eagle. I have 10 bottles and I've never opened one.
WS: What do you like to pour for New Year's Eve?
LAR: I always have a dinner party on New Year's for about 20 people, at [my] home on St. Barts. I start with Champagne. I don't really like drinking Champagne but I like the idea of it, so we'll open Krug Rosé or Cristal Rosé or Dom Pérignon. Then, white Burgundy, then Pinot Noir. I usually go to La Tâche. Most people collect it, but I actually drink mine. Then for the Bordeaux and the California Cabs, I usually do magnums. Last year I took a couple Harlan 1997s with me, and La Mission-Haut-Brion.
WS: Does your line of work bring you into contact with many wine lovers?
LAR: There are a few, and we've found each other. There's probably about a good 10 or 12 of us in the contemporary entertainment scene. We taste together and share bottles. I recently did a blind tasting that I was quite proud of. For one bottle, I guessed 1994 Harlan, and it turned out to be a 1995 Harlan. The only clue I had were that the bottles were 15 to 20 years old. Those Harlans are very forward, and they have a long finish.
WS: How did you get into the restaurant business?
LAR: That was my wife's fault. We were living in Atlanta. Basically we wanted a place where we could socialize that had great food and a great ambiance. One person led to another and we ran into some guys who were going to start a restaurant, and I became an investor. It was called Fuse Box. Very special, but a little ahead of its time. I lived in Atlanta at the time and when I moved to New York, I sold it.
WS: Any plans to jump back in?
LAR: No, never ever again. No. I would love to own a vineyard some day. That's my life's dream. It could be in Long Island or in California. It doesn't matter. My guess is that it wouldn’t be in Europe, but I'd like to own a vineyard.
Matthew Slywka — Seymour, CT — November 17, 2009 12:51pm ET
John Kmiecik — Chicago, IL — November 17, 2009 7:02pm ET
David Kosmayer — Toronto, Canada — November 17, 2009 11:12pm ET
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