Lloyd Flatt, one of America's foremost wine collectors, died in Alexandria, Va., Jan. 25 after a protracted illness at age 71. Flatt, an international aerospace consultant, started acquiring world-class wines at auction in the late 1960s, and ultimately amassed a 15,000-bottle cellar with a focus on first-growth Bordeaux.
Flatt always said that his was a working cellar, not a showcase. He collected in order to learn about his finds, to drink them and to share them. He never hesitated to uncork a rare bottle if a guest expressed interest. Throughout the 1980s, Flatt hosted numerous wine extravaganzas, replete with marching bands and black-tie dinner dances. His celebrated megatastings included a 115-vintage examination of Château Lafite dating back to the 1784 vintage, plus vast vertical forays into Châteaus Pétrus, Mouton-Rothschild, Ausone and Cheval-Blanc. They were all conducted gratis for the edification of his wine buddies.
In Flatt's collection were priceless jeroboams of 1929 Château Mouton-Rothschild, double magnums of 1953 Château Pétrus and even a 750ml bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild 1806 in his collection. He also cellared rare Burgundies, including a stash of Bouchard Père et Fils bottlings from the late 1800s. The collection was all stored in a stunning temperature- and humidity-controlled "wine house" in New Orleans' French Quarter, where Flatt then resided.
Flatt was forced to reconstruct his collection in 1990 when his cellar was auctioned off at Christie's as a result of a divorce. He assembled a comparatively modest, 3,000-bottle collection, comprising some classic clarets, with a new emphasis on Burgundy.
"Wine collecting is much easier today because of all the reference material that is now available," Flatt once said. "Forty years ago, collectors had nothing to go by other than their own palates. Michael Broadbent had yet to write his Great Vintage Wine Book, Marvin Shanken had yet to buy Wine Spectator and Robert Parker was still in law school. My advice to anyone contemplating a wine collection today is to focus. Find something that you enjoy. Don't try to explore everything all at once."
Flatt's basic approach to wine collecting remains valid today. "I always mentally expensed the value of my wine at the time of purchase," he explained, "so that the adjusted cost never became an obstacle to uncorking a bottle. Unlike an art collection, which is permanent, wine ultimately must be consumed. You shouldn't even contemplate a cellar if you cannot accept that fact."