Monday, November 23, 2009

Living With Wine

With the holidays approaching, numerous coffee table books are published and offered as gift ideas. The basic idea of such a book is for it to be displayed on a coffee table for guests to see, thus sparking discussion about its contents. Such books also usually visually appealing, containing lots of colorful photographs and illustrations.

For wine lovers, you might be interested in Living With Wine: Passionate Collectors, Sophisticated Cellars, and Other Rooms for Entertaining, Enjoying, and Imbibing by Samantha Nestor and Alice Feiring (Crown Publishing Group, October, $75.00). This is a coffee-table sized hardcover of 256 pages.

Samantha Nestor is the special projects editor at Metropolitan Home magazine (which will fold at the end of this year) and a contributor to Alice Feiring is a well known wine writer, author of The Battle for Wine and Love, and Veritas in Vino. The photographs in the book were taken by Andrew French.

The book presents 30 wine cellars, from all across the country. Each section describes the cellar, the owner, and includes some of their favorite wines. The book is divided into five chapters, each chapter collecting cellars with the same general purpose. This include: The Entertaining Pair's Lair (where the cellars are also used to entertain); The Gentlemen's Haven (for big collectors, those with many trophy wines who might even have cellars within cellars); The Sybarite's Sanctuary (luxury cellars which are objects of display); The Modernist Refuge (more innovative, nontraditional cellars) & Urban Retreats and Inspiring Spaces (cellars with limited space and commercial wine cellars that inspire).

For all of these individuals, the wine cellar is more than just a place to store wine. They are intended to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as to display the owner's personality. These are not inexpensive cellars, and most of us can only dream about one day owning such a cellar. Thus, the book becomes more a fantasy for many readers, the cellars we might build one day if we won the lottery. As such, the book might not appeal to everyone though the photography is very stunning.

My own favorite of the cellars is the "Ode to Saké," where a man who collects wine and Saké had special refrigerators built into his wine cellar to accomodate his Saké.

Interspersed between the cellar articles, are some small side bars on a variety of topics such as Artwork & Collectibles, Technology and Kosher Wine. Though these items are short, they do make for interesting reading, and add to the value of the book. At the end of the book is a Resources chapter with contact information for architects, furniture, lighting, computers and much more, each keyed to the specific wine cellar that was previously described. So if you ever get enough money, you will know who to contact to build your cellar.

At $75, this is not a cheap book and I don't think it is going to appeal to a large audience. It is well written and visually appealing, but I am not sure the subject matter will be too compelling to a general wine-loving audience. For those who do find the subject matter interesting though, then you will likely enjoy this book.


Scott said...

Here's my take. You don't have to be rich to have a cellar that works well, and careful buying and patience can have you drinking wines that you could otherwise not afford.

I walled off a 5' x 10' area along an outside wall of the mostly unfinished basement of my 1915 era house, then insulated the ceiling from the first floor and insulated the walls from the rest of the basement. I also built a small foyer so that you have to go through two doors to get in. I built some racks for individual bottles and some sturdy shelves for crates and boxes.

There is no temperature control. The cellar slowly cycles from a low of about 45 in February to a high of about 70 in late August.

Since 1985, I've built up and cellared a stock of about 900-1100 bottles of wine, packed fairly closely together to provide thermal mass. In all those years, I've had perhaps 10-15 bottles of wine that have turned. Most of the wines have aged just beautifully, with little to no attention. (In fact, "little to no attention" is key here -- don't mess with cellared bottles `til you're ready to drink.)

In 2007, I opened a 1982 Margaux that had been there since 1985. It was perfect. (The price tag was still on it -- $45.)

Two weeks ago, I opened some 1989 Beaucastel that had been there since 1992. Perfect. (The price tag was still on this, too -- $32.) And followed it with a 1985 Verset Cornas that had been there since 1988. Perfect. And then a 1983 Rieussec that had been there since 1985. Perfect. (I paid $18 per bottle for this.)

I'm not saying this to brag, but rather to encourage people to build something simple and humble, to buy carefully ("great wines in good years, good wines in great years"), and then just be patient. You'll be well rewarded.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Scott:
Thanks for your comments. I agree that one does not need to be rich to have a workable wine cellar. Especially if one has some construction skills.