a man sitting on a silk rug
a man sitting on a silk rug

NIGO will be leading the creative vision for Penfolds in a multi-year artistic collaboration

Fashion and wine meet with the collaboration of Japanese fashion designer NIGO and the iconic Penfolds wine brand

One of the world’s most iconic wines just got a little more special. For years, collectors have lusted after Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most celebrated wine and quite possibly the most revered luxury brand to come out of the country. The phenomenon of Grange, as it is known to connoisseurs the world over, from Shanghai to San Francisco, is largely due to its sheer quality – many consider it the world’s best wine made from Shiraz (otherwise known as Syrah) grapes, but also due to its originality.

a bottle and a bandana

This collaboration sees the influence of NIGO’s company, Human Made, which was founded in Tokyo and draws upon
graphic design, subculture and streetwear

Unlike every other iconic world wine, whether from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa or elsewhere, Grange is not made from a single vineyard, or even from the same designated vineyards in a small, geographically distinct area, every year. Rather, it is made from grapes from Penfolds own vineyards and grower partners’ vineyards across Australia, selected by the Penfolds winemaking team for their Grange-like character. It is an icon that is also an iconoclast.

Read more: Inside Penfolds, the global luxury wine brand

a man with lots of wine barrels

NIGO, visiting Penfolds’ Magill Barrel Room, ahead of his collaboration, ‘Grange by NIGO’

So, how suitable that Penfolds Grange has partnered with the wildly original – some might say iconoclastic – Japanese designer and cultural hero NIGO, who is also Artistic Director of the Kenzo fashion brand and founder of Human Made. Appointed as the wine brand’s first ever Creative Partner in 2023, NIGO is working on a series of collaborations with the brand, none more exciting and iconoclastic than the recently released Grange by NIGO, which has seen NIGO design a limited edition gift box for the 2019 vintage. With each gift box individually numbered and including a bandana and bottle neck tag also designed by NIGO in his signature style, it’s a bold step for a fine wine brand, as Penfolds Chief Marketing Officer, Kristy Keyte, explains:

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“This is a different direction for us, and the first time we have changed the distinctive gift box of our flagship Grange. Collaborating with NIGO has been inspired by Penfolds history of pushing boundaries in winemaking, and now we expand this to exploration of new creative ideas. As a collector, NIGO understands the reputation of Grange and its legacy. He was able to create a limited-edition approach that is both playful and fresh while remaining respectful to the history of the wine. We have never done this before, and the result is brave and refreshing.”

a guy sitting looking at a bottle of wine

‘Penfolds has always been one of my favourites’, says avid wine collector, NIGO

NIGO, a fine wine collector himself, commented : “I have been a collector of Grange for many years, but it wasn’t until I visit Penfolds Magill Estate that I truly understood the craftmanship and history behind the historic wine. It was an honour to be the first person to collaborate on a design for Grange, especially as the brand celebrates its 180th anniversary.”

a man holding a bottle of wine

According to Drinks International’s 2024 list of The World’s Most Admired Wine Brands, Penfolds is one of the top three wine brands globally

There are only 1500 standard-sized 750ml bottles and 150 magnums available globally and they are selling fast in this, Penfolds 180th anniversary year, following their initial release in Australia and Asia recently, and they are likely to become highly collectible. We suggest buying as many as you can: its a wine whose box (and nifty bandana) is as striking and delicious as the liquid inside.

Penfolds Grange by NIGO is available globally. Future projects between Penfolds and NIGO will be announced later this year, 2024.

penfolds.com

 

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house

In 1974, Giovanni Conterno purchased the entire 14-hectare Cascina Francia vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba. It is now known as the Francia vineyard.

What are the 12 greatest wine estates in the world? A subjective question, surely. Lewis Chester doesn’t think so. The British financier and founder of the Golden Vines awards presents his series for LUX of his golden dozen, the most collectible wine estates from the world’s major regions. For the second instalment, he looks towards Piedmont in search of the best Barolo 

Roberto Conterno is not like many Italian winemakers I have met. Firstly, he’s serious and fastidious. A clean freak, the cellar is always spotless. While tasting wine from one of his barrels, he almost had a coronary when a few drops of red wine spilled from his pipette onto the cellar floor. We met again a few years later, and nothing had changed, except he was keen to show me his new range of glassware, Sensory, that he had designed to taste with wines from any region. In the process, he opened some very pricey wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux to prove his point. Convinced by the taste test, I purchased the first 36 glasses sold in the UK market.

Roberto is deeply respectful of the terroir that he inherited from his late father, Giovanni. This includes the fourteen-hectare monopole (solely-owned designated vineyard) of Cascina Francia, in what is considered the best village in Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba. 400 metres in altitude, it includes 9.4 hectares of Nebbiolo, the varietal he uses in his Barolo designated wines. In 2008, Roberto increased the estate’s landholdings by acquiring 3 hectares of Cerretta, another well regarded vineyard in the village. Finally, in 2015, he purchased Arione, a highly-sought after nearly 6 hectare vineyard situated next to Cascina Francia.

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field

Monfortino is not a vineyard. It is a name invented for their top bottling at some point early in the 20th Century.

Although the estate makes more than seven cuvées, undoubtedly the best is Monfortino Riserva. An iconic wine designed for long-ageing, it has more than a hundred years of history since the inaugural 1924 vintage. Monfortino Riserva is aged for a minimum of five years in either 50+ year-old Slavonian oak or newer Austrian Franz Stockinger large casks (plus one year in the bottle).

Returning from the First World War, Roberto’s grandfather, Giacomo, had the vision to create a unique bottling of Nebbiolo, sourcing the best grapes from different growers, at a time when wine was typically sold in cask or purchased by local merchants for blending. Only from 1978 was the first Monfortino produced from grapes sourced from the family’s own Cascina Francia vineyard.

I first realised that Monfortino Riserva was one of the world’s greatest wines when I purchased some very old bottles from a little wine shop in Alba fifteen years ago: 1955, 1961 and 1978, all legendary vintages. Opening them at various dinners, they all performed remarkably well. The 1955 vintage had a bizarre trajectory. On opening, it buzzed with aromas of violets, rose petals and a hint of tar, collapsing to oblivion within twenty minutes of pouring. The wine in my glass had become a deadly shade of pale. However, after a further thirty minutes, it had miraculously revived and was as good as when it had first been poured. The greatest comeback since Lazarus!

Read more: Tasting Bollinger’s new luxury cuvées in Paris

wines

The selection of grapes for Monfortino typically takes place in the vineyard. It must be done early in the winemaking process because one of the key differences between Monfortino and their other bottlings is that there is no temperature control during fermentation of the Monfortino grapes.

Monfortino Riserva is still Italy’s reference fine wine. It is also one of (if not the) most expensive, with many vintages selling in the secondary market for more than £1,000 per 75cl bottle. But it’s worth every penny. Fear not, however. Roberto’s other bottlings, in particular Cerretta and Arione, are incredible wines that cost a fraction of the price of Monfortino Riserva.

Lewis’s Best 3 Wines from Giacomo Conterno

Giacomo Conterno, Monfortino Riserva, 2010: An iron fist in a velvet glove is the most apt description of a wine full of power and grace, that will no doubt be showing well for the next fifty-plus years. Monfortino is known for aromas of leather, licorice, incense and dried rose petals, and this wine has it in abundance. However, the coup de grâce was the extremely long finish that captivates you to drink the rest of the bottle before your wife reaches for the bottle.

Giacomo Conterno, Monfortino Riserva, 2002: I was lucky enough to try the 2001 and 2002 (in magnums) together at a dinner in Turin. It was a close toss up as to which gave greater pleasure. However, the 2002 got the nod as I was wowed by the balsamic and black tea aromas, savoury sweet mid-palate, and the silky but firm tannins. Just divine.

guy

Roberto Conterno is the third generation winemaker at the helm of arguably Piedmont’s most famed estate

Giacomo Conterno, Monfortino Riserva, 1955: you just can’t beat having a wine that’s older than oneself and marvelling at how it can make you smile. The flowery petal notes, the intensity of the palate despite the wine having lost almost all its colour, and a long delicate finish. The fact that the wine died and then revived miraculously only added to the long-lived memory of its happy consumption.

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Reading time: 4 min
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Beautiful, big house with ah big terrace and garden

Since 1843, six generations of the Krug family have perpetuated this dream, enriching the Joseph Krug’s vision and savoir faire. Today, the Family House welcomes Krug Lovers from around the world to take a sensorial journey around Krug Champagne.

What are the 12 greatest wine estates in the world? A subjective question, surely. Lewis Chester doesn’t think so. The British financier and founder of the Golden Vines awards kicks off a series where he outlines for LUX his golden dozen, the most collectible wine estates from the world’s major regions. For the first instalment, he pays homage to Krug, the revered champagne house owned by LVMH

Why begin my personalised list of the World’s Best 12 Fine Wine Estates with Maison Krug? As a fine wine collector for almost twenty-five years, I have collected more bottles of Krug than any other wine: more than 1,500. More importantly, I drink more bottles of Krug than any other wine – every Friday night with my family at a minimum. My middle daughter, Anoushka, was just twelve years old when she developed a craving for Krug. Maggie Henriquez, at the time the Maison’s President & CEO, found out about Anoushka’s love of Krug and invited her and her friends to celebrate her future eighteenth birthday party at the estate!

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Krug evokes class and sophistication. In 2012, the late, great Paul Pontallier invited me to an 8-hour marathon lunch in the great salon of Château Margaux, one of the five left-bank First Growths. On arrival, Paul – the Château’s estate manager – served me a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée, the multi-wine non-vintage blend that Krug lovers around the world imbibe on a regular basis. At around 7pm, after having consumed six bottles of Margaux and a bottle of cognac, I asked Paul why he had chosen to serve me Krug: “We, at Château Margaux, want our guests to consider our wines as being at the same level as those from Maison Krug”. Wow! What an endorsement. Many years later, I would be told something quite similar by Don Weaver, the estate manager at Harlan Estate in Napa Valley, when he met me at the winery door holding two glasses and a cold bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée.

big green vineyard

Joseph Krug did not believe in hierarchies between his Champagnes, clearly written in his personal notebook in 1848. Today the House offers seven Champagnes, all of the same undisputed quality, each illustrating a different expression of Nature.

Krug ages forever. Along with Grande Cuvée, the ‘cheapest’ wine in the Maison’s range at around £200 per bottle, the Maison produces a vintage bottling in good years, as well as a formidable non-vintage Rosé, and a rare ‘Collection’ version of its vintage champagnes (only available to private clients). For those willing and able to pay thousands of pounds per bottle, they also produce – in miniscule quantities – a single-vineyard Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) wine, Clos du Mesnil, and a single-vineyard Blanc de Noirs (Pinot Noir), Clos d’Ambonnay.

Known for having wines that are generous on the palate, with huge complexity helped by ageing in wooden barrels, Krug is somewhat opposite in design to its LVMH stablemate, Dom Pérignon, which is known for its reductive style of champagnes. Unlike Dom Pérignon, Krug makes less than a tenth of the volume of wine, although getting the exact production figures from either Maison is as difficult as getting your hands on Russia’s nuclear launch codes.

Dark wine cellar

Olivier Krug, the sixth generation of the Krug family and Director of the House welcomes Krug Lovers from around the world to the Family House in Reims.

The Maison was established in Reims in 1843, by Joseph Krug, a true visionary non-conformist with an uncompromising philosophy for quality. Joseph’s novel idea was to craft the very best Champagne he could offer, every single year, regardless of annual variations in climate – rather than bottling a wine only in good vintages. He also introduced the idea of building an extensive library of reserve wines from many different years to craft the perfect blend. Six generations of the Krug family have continued Joseph’s work, with Olivier Krug being the latest in a long line of family members to be working at the estate which has been owned by LVMH since 1999.
The most recent innovation at the estate was numbering each bottling of Krug Grande Cuvée with an ‘Edition’ number. In 2016, Edition 163eme was launched, representing the 163rd annual bottling of Grande Cuvée from the time of Joseph Krug’s first vintage in 1844. Krug Rosé edition numbers shortly followed suit. Collectors can use the Krug app to quickly find out what and how many wines comprise any given Edition number, and even what music ensemble to pair with the wine. For instance, the most recent release, 171eme Edition, is blended with 131 wines from 12 different years (2015 all the way back to 2000), made up of 45% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay and 18% Meunier grapes. Julie Cavil, the Chef de Cave, recommends enjoying this Krug with Joseph’s Theme: Dream Variation (composed by Kazu Makino et al).

Read more: A tasting of Drouhin’s fine Burgundies

Lewis’s Best 3 Wines from Maison Krug

Krug, Clos du Mesnil, 1979: the first vintage from this iconic single vineyard, it ranks as one of the best three wines I have ever tasted from any estate. Aromas of roses and petals, and a finish that ran for several minutes in the mouth. Worldclass.

Krug, Clos du Mesnil, 2002: although still a relative puppy, I am convinced that the 2002 vintage will last for another twenty-plus years and be considered alongside the 1979 vintage as a legendary wine.

Krug, Vintage 1988: if you can find a bottle that has been stored well, the wine will be remarkably fresh, vibrant and complex, and I guarantee that it will blow your socks off.

wine bottles laying next to each other

Each year, Krug’s Cellar Master auditions 250 wines of the year and 150 reserve wines when creating a new Édition of Krug Grande Cuvée

The 2024 edition of the Golden Vines awards will take place in Madrid between October 25-27 2024. liquidicons.com

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Reading time: 5 min
art exhibition installation
riverview at night

Walking back after dinner. Image by Darius Sanai

Paris, the eternal city, never changes. Or perhaps it does. After a two-year hiatus, Darius Sanai notices some interesting happenings during a week of meetings with luxury CEOs, art dealers and creatives

Meeting an old friend for the first time in two years, I wonder if she will have aged and find her instead fizzing with renewed life.

The friend is Paris. I am here for the first time since just before the pandemic hit Europe. “Since Brexit, people are coming here instead of London because it’s easier to get a job,” says Kai, a graphic designer I bump into at a gallery opening. Estonian, she moved to the vibey/slightly scary 19th arrondissement from Dalston, in London, in September.

That doesn’t mean that Paris hasn’t suffered from city flight, like London, New York and most other metropolises. Prices of apartments in the centre of Paris are down 2.5% year on year. The sellers are not like Kai. They are wealthy and middle aged. Maybe an exchange of the wealthy bourgeoisie for edgy graphic designers in their 20s is the reason for the vivacity. Property prices in the dodgy/cool 19th are up 3.8%, from a much lower base.

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To dinner on the Left Bank with Francois Pinault’s CEO of Artemis Domaines wine estate group. Frédéric Engerer has Château Latour, the celebrated Eisele and Clos du Tart estates in Napa and Burgundy respectively, and several others, under his thumb. I get the feeling from Frédéric that these may not be the last: luxury goods titan Pinault is buying great wine estates like he once snapped up Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent.

At Les Climats, the Parisian restaurant with “the best wine list in the world”, according to numerous magazines, the sommelier at first doesn’t recognise Frédéric, who is arguably the most powerful man in French wine. This could have been embarrassing but Frédéric is understated, leafing through the list as anyone would. The penny drops. “Ah…sorry, I didn’t realise who…” stammers the sommelier. It’s fine.

We do a side-by-side blind tasting of his own Clos d’Eugenie against another excellent Burgundy. Frédéric and I both manage to identify both wines correctly, simple for him, and a 50/50 for me. Having had a bottle of champagne and two bottles of Burgundy on a Tuesday night, with meetings all day Wednesday, we decline the suggestion of a dessert wine.

luxury bedroom

Our suite at the Hotel Costes Castiglione. Image by Darius Sanai

Back at Hotel Costes, I am walking slightly unsteadily towards the lift in the arresting, Christian Liaigre-designed lobby of the new Castiglione wing, when I am greeted by someone walking out of the bar. After establishing I am who he thinks I am (two years absence and a compulsory face mask have that effect), Jean-Louis Costes invites me for a drink in his bar.

Over a late-night glass of Badoit, the man who first created a new vibe for Paris with the Hotel Costes in 1995 tells me his plans to expand the Costes even more. A boutique is becoming a palace. It’s also turning into my kind of place: I found the Jacques Garcia-designed original Costes a bit self-conscious, or perhaps it’s the people I met there over the years. The Castiglione, with its high ceilings, visual drama and flair, is Paris showing Dubai, London, New York and anywhere with pretensions of grandeur, how contemporary luxury style is done. If Marie Antoinette were alive and holding court in 2022, she would do it here. I reflect on how the most talked-about hotel in France among the social and media (and social media) sets is owned and run by a man who doesn’t do interviews (the profiles I did with him for LUX and Condé Nast Traveller in 2021 were the first he has ever done for the international press) and isn’t on social media.

Read more: Why you should get your new car ceramic coated

The next morning, I walk downstairs as Jean-Louis walks into the lobby. He offers me on a hard hat tour of the new spa and swimming pool, under construction beneath the hotel, and the next wing, to be a loft-style chill out zone, opening later this year. I promise to say nothing about them until the time. Only, the pool is very big and will be special. “I don’t want to build something for three people doing lengths,” he says. Jean-Louis reminds me of Nick Jones, founder of Soho House. He looks at the same space everyone else looks at, and sees an idea for something nobody else can see.

photoshoot in paris

Bird’s eye view of Angie Kremer’s photoshoot for the next issue of LUX. Image by Darius Sanai

I walk to Montparnasse, to the Photo House studio where Angie Kremer, a happening young photographer and videographer, is doing a shoot for the next issue of LUX on young creatives in Paris. Gen Z Parisians entering the workforce seem far more open to culture and ideas from the rest of the world – and outside the Peripherique – than the previous generation of twenty somethings. A positive impact of social media.

Vanessa Guo & Jean-Mathieu Martini. Courtesy Galerie Marguo

Vanessa Guo and Jean-Mathieu Martini are not Gen Z. They are globally connected millennials on a mission. Vanessa, former director of Hauser & Wirth in Hong Kong, moved to Paris and opened Galerie Marguo in October 2020. The gallery is in in a former government building in the Marais and looks out onto a newly rebuilt courtyard – the Square Arnaud Beltrame – where public art and outdoor private views take place next to a kids’ playground. (No Takashi Murakami works here.)

Vanessa says a new generation of collectors is interested in collecting a new generation of artists. Back to Brexit: with taxes and paperwork on art in and out of the UK, Paris is vying to take over London’s preeminent role in the European art world. The collectors are coming here too, she says. So long a museum of culture and brands managed carefully by a closed elite, Paris is opening out. The imminent arrival of Art Basel, displacing the more local FIAC from its seat at the Grand Palais, will change things even more.

art exhibition installation

Installation view of “Ziping Wang: Obsession Indifference and Onionskin” at Galerie Marguo, Paris

Amin Jaffer, collector and curator of the sublime, is out of town this week so I can’t take him up on his invitation for tea at his beautiful home, where his art collection is so beguilingly put together that I never want to leave. Instead, he organises for me to have a tour of the new Al Thani collection, which he curated, at the (also) new Hôtel de la Marine. The building is on Place de la Concorde, directly in the centre of the north side. The collection is a sliver of the art from Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and surrounding regions, collected by Qatar’s ruling family over the last decades. It is presented delicately, clearly, warmly, with excellent descriptions that are both clear and authoritative. And have no “side”. Curators of far lesser intellectual worth writing dreadful, biased descriptions in some of the leading institutions of the Anglo-Saxon world should take note and learn from the Qataris, and Amin. I make a note to ask him to give me a personal tour next time.

Read more: Richard Curtis on the Power of Pensions

At meetings at Kering‘s HQ, at a former military hospital on Rue de Sèvres, I reflect that Francois-Henri Pinault’s sustainability strategy and introduction of environmental P&Ls for his brands felt revolutionary and a bit weird when I first spoke about them ten years ago. Now, it feels normal, the least you can do. Meanwhile the metaverse feels revolutionary and a bit weird now.

contemporary art sculpture

A sculpture at the Al Thani Collection. Photo by Darius Sanai

A final lunch with the LUX team and Angie Kremer at Château Voltaire. This new mini five-star hotel with 1970s themes is where Kanye West stayed for the last fashion week. I have tuna tataki with ponzu and frisée salad. Angie points out that frisée can misbehave when covered with dressing and goes for haricots verts. We plan a little party and exhibition for her shoot after the next issue is out.

Time to catch the Eurostar, where the security still doesn’t provide trays, so your Balenciaga coat sits on the conveyor and your Fragonard perfume bottle gets chewed up between the ramps.

At the Eurostar arrivals area of London St Pancras, the huge Dent clock above the Tracey Emin neon has stopped. It’s an easy omen for a writer. London hasn’t stopped, but in Paris, something has restarted.

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Reading time: 7 min
grand drawing room
man sniffing glass of red wine

Prince Robert de Luxembourg. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon. F. Poincet @ OccitMedia

Prince Robert de Luxembourg is taking Domaine Clarence Dillon and Château Haut-Brion, one of Bordeaux’s most prestigious wine estates, into the future by creating new winemaking facilities, a fine wine shop and a visitor centre. LUX speaks with him about mixing the worlds of art and fine wine, and growing the family business

Prince Robert de Luxembourg – just plain Robert to his friends and this interviewer – is in a hurry, although you wouldn’t know it. He is about to embark on his first family trip to the US, to visit the American side of his family, since before the pandemic. But if he’s ruffled by having to deal with the stresses of international travel currently, he isn’t showing it. “And how have things been with you?” he asks, listening thoughtfully and diverting briefly into a conversation about how curious the media world is right now.

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Robert is someone who could easily have done very little at all; after becoming involved in the family company a decade earlier, in 2002 he became Managing Director of the family’s holding of Domaine Clarence Dillon, which owns, among others, one of the world’s most celebrated wine estates, Château Haut-Brion. Haut-Brion is what is known by connoisseurs as a ‘First Growth’, standing alongside Châteaux Lafite, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour and Margaux; the China-driven rise in values of these wines in the past 20 years has meant a surge in profit margins for their owners. A case of 12 bottles of 1989 Château Haut-Brion will set you back more than £15,000 (more than US$20,000); in a restaurant, a recent vintage will usually be priced north of £1,000 per bottle.

Haut-Brion also has more heritage than pretty much any other wine: American founding father Thomas Jefferson famously took a case home to Virginia in the 1780s; and, for those who care about these things, it has a distinctive style, often richer and more earthy than its fellow first growths.

grand drawing room

The salle des vignes in the 19th-century Pavillon Catelan, at Château Haut-Brion in Bordeaux, which has been converted and extended into a new visitor centre. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

Like his wine estate, Robert has strong links to the US: his mother, Joan Dillon, was a stalwart of the US political establishment, who married Prince Charles of Luxembourg, a direct descendant of King Henry IV and Louis XIV, and a member of the Bourbon family. The heritage of the estate and other holdings in Domaine Clarence Dillon comes from his mother’s line: it was his maternal great-grandfather, Clarence Dillon, a Texan financier, who purchased Haut-Brion in 1935.

There’s an element of the Texan in Robert; his warm-hearted greetings, openness to conversation, straightforwardness. His English is somewhere between the private-school British of his upbringing and the East Coast aristo of his US family.

There is another side to him that needs prising out a little: the creative. He started out as a Hollywood screenwriter, one with considerable potential it appears, as one of his screenplays piqued the interest of Stephen Spielberg and was eventually optioned by Colombia Pictures. Although we don’t talk about it much, he plainly enjoys his interactions and ideas with the media and film crews, and there is creativity in both his planning as he expands and recreates his Domaine for the next decades and in the execution of elements such as Le Clarence and Pavillon Catelan.

The former is the restaurant he opened in Paris in 2015, now with two Michelin stars under chef Christophe Pelé, which, though reflecting a decidedly modern version of French cuisine, has been created to feel like dining at a Bordeaux château. The latter is his new creation at Château Haut-Brion and its (almost equally celebrated) neighbour La Mission Haut-Brion, a lavish visitor centre with contemporary-Baroque drawing and private dining rooms. The key message: the visitor experience can now be as lavish as are the wines.

vineyards and chateau

Château Quintus in Saint-Émilion, part of Domaine Clarence Dillon. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: To what extent have you transformed Domaine Clarence Dillon? It’s a broader business now than when you took over.
Robert de Luxembourg: It was a farm when I arrived as a child. We had no offices, it was just one venerable wine estate, Haut-Brion. There was an accountant who would come maybe one or two times a week to my great-grandfather’s apartment in Paris and that was the only ‘office work’ that was undertaken. There was also a gentleman who would organise visits in Bordeaux occasionally. At that time it was a farm and today, we have become a group of companies, the mother company being Domaine Clarence Dillon. This entity oversees five subsidiaries, three vineyards and many more wines. We have grown into a substantial and expanding wine business enjoying a multitude of related activities.

Read more: David Taggart on photographing our cover star Jeff Koons

I believe considered growth is important for a family company in order to survive and flourish. In the short term, you could do very well having one extraordinary trophy, but if you want to keep the family involved and the shareholders happy over the long term, you also have to evolve and grow. That is as important as the element of pride and belonging and being part of an exciting story. The bottom line is making sure that future generations of our family remain committed and invested in the business. So, yes, growth has been a part of my strategy along with enjoying the creativity of developing new lines of business. This company spirit is important to all of our stakeholders – my colleagues, my family and ultimately our customers. Tradition and innovation are an integral part of our DNA. As an entrepreneur, and standard bearer for our family and company, I find this mix both exciting and rewarding! Every time you start something new, it offers you all kinds of other directions in which you can take the business, whether it’s a restaurant, or retail or wholesale. I am very proud to say that we have accomplished this successfully in all of the related lines of business that we have developed. Clarence Dillon and Haut-Brion were my initial inspiration. This has led us to reach a level of excellence in all of our new activities that become references of quality in their own domains in the world of fine wine.

By the way, we have just had one of the most successful en primeur campaigns of all time. Quite unexpected, given the context! This is particularly exciting for Quintus but also for Châteaux Haut-Brion and La Mission. Our campaign lasted two-and-a-half hours during which we sold all the wine that we released on the market. Life slowly seems to be coming back to normal and it is gratifying to see interest and sales returning from hotels, restaurants and the airlines industry, which had remained very quiet over the previous 18 months.

luxurious dining room

The salon gentilshommes, one of the private dining rooms at Pavillon Catelan. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: You are building a new cellar at Haut-Brion. What prompted this?
Robert de Luxembourg: All big changes at the estate, even dating back to the 17th century, have been driven by newer winemaking practices. Whether it’s the Pontac family producing new French claret or the introduction of adding sulphur and racking and even introducing estate bottling later, these winemaking developments are constantly driving innovation. When we brought in tractors in the 1950s, I think they were the first in Bordeaux and we had to house them somewhere, so we needed a building. When we brought in new vats in 1961, which were the first steel ones to be used in winemaking in Bordeaux, the buildings needed to accommodate them. And then in 1991, 1990 or even 1987, when we were rebuilding the entire chais at La Mission and designing new vats, this informed our advances during the following decades.

Over the past ten years we have been re-thinking our whole way of winemaking. This is driven by a desire to offer the finest winemaking tools in Bordeaux to our colleagues. We also aim to create carbon-neutral buildings that offer the perfect working environment for my colleagues and an exceptional visitor experience that focuses the attention squarely on the world’s most eminent historical winemaking estate, Château Haut-Brion.

None of this is particularly new. We started integrating the first solar panels back in the early 1990s at our estates, and we’ve slowly continued to build these up over the years. Now, with this new project, our intention is to complete this work at Haut-Brion by fashioning a totally carbon-neutral installation. Through our collaboration with the German-American architect Annabelle Selldorf and her team, we are developing the Château Haut-Brion installations of the future, while respecting the past and placing the focus back on this historic estate. This will be the most important undertaking at this estate for the past few centuries. We have been working on it for six years and it will take four more vintages to complete.

grand drawing room

The salle des vignes at the Pavillon Catelan. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: Your winemaker and Deputy General Manager Jean-Philippe Delmas must have a big role in this?
Robert de Luxembourg: Absolutely. The technical considerations for this project were front and centre. Jean-Philippe, alongside our Technical Director, Jean-Philippe Masclef, have together been driving this key process. It is interesting to think that Mr Delmas’s family has been overseeing all of these technical revolutions at this estate across three generations, starting with his grandfather, Georges Delmas, in 1923. At the very start of this project, having identified our architect, I told them, “You have carte blanche. What tools do you need in order to make the very finest wine possible?” Then we built a whole concept around what they had come up with. That has to be the starting point because it is ultimately exceptional terroir and wine that have always driven our success. After this came safety, comfort, ESG, sustainability and the visitor experience. Covid-19 provided us with extra time for reflection.

Read more: Maryam Eisler’s Spectacular New Photography Exhibition Opens At Linley In London

It has been a wonderful experience working with Annabelle Selldorf. Her firm had no experience in the arena of wine but a deep and very varied experience in other sectors, with a particular focus on museums, galleries and art. They recently worked on the Luma Foundation in Arles in parallel with Frank Gehry. They are just completing the extension of the Frick Collection in New York and refurbishing the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, and she’s done galleries for David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth over the years, and has recently received an important commission to work on the National Gallery in London. So, it was interesting for me to bring all of that expertise into a technical project to look at how these two worlds could come together.

The main challenge for me was that Haut-Brion has the most extraordinary history of any vineyard in the world. We didn’t want to create a huge architectural statement. If anything, we wanted to put the focus back on the Château and its story. So, we needed something technically perfect, as I’ve described already, but also, from an architectural standpoint, a structure that was rather discreet. That’s why we needed an architect whose design principles and statements wouldn’t overwhelm the history but respect and celebrate it, all the while introducing a very modern concept.

bottle of wine and glass

Haut-Brion 1985, a classic vintage of the château. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: What about the design of the new chai, and how will it relate to the Château?
Robert de Luxembourg: As I mentioned, it’s a modern, carbon-neutral construction using all the latest technology, whether geothermal or solar. As far as the design is concerned, it’s purposely discreet in order to focus the eye and mind on the Château, which is one of, if not the earliest château that was built solely to oversee wine production for the Pontac family whose house was not far away in Bordeaux. So the Château has sort of been obscured over the centuries as people have added on bits such as technical buildings and farm buildings. I would love to open up the Château again so that it is the first thing you see when you arrive. This is not the case today. And we’re trying to get away from having cars and tractors and stuff in the courtyards around the Château and just have serene parks and gardens outside. And that’s another concern: how do we monitor how people are going to be coming to us? Will they be coming in self-driving vehicles? Will they be coming in self-flying drones? How do we accommodate the new visitor over the next few decades? It’s not just about what’s going to happen in five years, but the next fifty.

LUX: So what will a visitor see in 2022?
Robert de Luxembourg: Well, in 2022, it’ll be a big hole, so there will be nothing. That’s why we have built our new visitor centre. And La Mission and Quintus will still be available for visits. Also, the shop, La Cave du Château Bordeaux, opened in July.

LUX: What will the private dining experience at the visitor centre be like?
Robert de Luxembourg: The idea is to recreate the atmosphere that we have in Paris [at Le Clarence Restaurant] so that people feel they are surrounded by the vineyards and they can have tailor-made tasting experiences. They can bring their friends and have access to an extraordinary range of vintages they will not have access to elsewhere. And the wine is going to be from our estate only.

parisian hotel

The façade of Hôtel Dillon, Paris. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: Will there be a kind of VVIP experience that you can offer with this private dining?Robert de Luxembourg: I think anyone that comes to us should be considered a VVIP. That’s our culture here; we’ve always welcomed all visitors and everyone has been treated as a guest in our home. We’ve never, to date, sold anything. We’ve never had anyone pay for any experience: it has always been free, everyone’s always been given free wine. So, in time, that is going to have to shift, because it’s a huge amount of work to have people serve and run the visits and the rest of it. Today, we receive around 10,000 visitors a year, and pouring 20,000 glasses of La Mission and Haut-Brion for free has an impact on our stocks when we are producing very little anyway. So, I don’t think it can go on forever, but within the new buildings, we will have dedicated spaces for visitors and special dining areas. Access to certain areas, depending on what you’re interested in, will be limited, of course, because we have collections of documents in our library, our collections of cultural tools, etc. Our new facilities will be outside the new visitor experience, but for the next few years – because it’s a three-year process before we even start the other building – we will have people using this space and they’ll be able to have catered lunches or dinners.

Read more: Entrepreneur Utsava Kasera on finding his gap in the market

LUX: Is it returning to business as usual at Le Clarence, following the lockdowns?
Robert de Luxembourg: I’ve tried to bother the chef as little as possible because it’s been complex getting up and running again. So far, the feedback that I’ve received from people who are friends of mine who have gone there has been very positive. It’s getting back into training and if you’re playing at the top of the league, you need to build up slowly and so that’s what we’re doing. I anticipate that we will become a little bit more normal in our practices and open up further come September. Our private rooms have had little use – we haven’t felt comfortable doing that – but it’s all now slowly returning to normal. What’s great is that people are so excited to be there with us. People are coming and staying very late. That’s part of the advantage the way the Clarence is conceived: they come and they stay. It can be challenging for our team because we have people still finishing their lunch at 6.30pm just as we have diners arriving, so we need to accommodate that, especially when people have missed this experience so much that they don’t want to depart.

kitchen team

The team of the hotel’s restaurant Le Clarence. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: Can you tell us more about the 2020 vintage and also a bit about Château Quintus?
Robert de Luxembourg: Well, 2020 has been a huge success. Obviously, over the past few years we’ve had Mother Nature on our side. One of the positive aspects of global warming – if you’re looking for them – is that we’ve been making some extraordinary wines with vintages that happen to be in line with some of the finest vintages made over the past century. When you look at vintages such as the ’45s, the ’47s, the ’59s, the ’61s, the ’82s and the ’89s, they tended to be hot, dry vintages but still with enough humidity for the wine not to be stressed. Even 2003, which was the hottest, still has lovely acidity in the reds and the whites didn’t suffer either. The weather conditions have been perfect in order to produce great vintages and obviously the techniques have also improved significantly.

With Quintus, we’ve acquired three sites with different vats, both concrete and steel, so it was also an amazing laboratory for us to work in. Ironically, there was probably more variety to work with here for our winemakers than they had at La Mission or Haut-Brion. It’s taken some time for them to fully come to terms with the terroir, which is normal, but with 2020 we’re now coming up to our tenth vintage.

We’ve grown with the property, we understand it better every year, and I think we’ve made the best wine so far in 2020 and it’s recognised by the market. It’s the first time where, you know, critics are confidently saying, “Yes, this is a truly great wine and terroir”. We have totally changed the winemaking practices here on the right bank. I have never hidden the fact that my motivation is to produce one of the top (if not the finest) right bank and Saint- Émilion wine at this estate. That is why we named the estate Quintus (as the Romans may have named their fifth child). Quintus has the same potential as our first four wines, both red and white, to be one of the very finest wines in the world. I believe that we are up to the task of making this dream a reality!

Robert de Luxembourg’s key milestones

2002: Becomes Managing Director of his family’s Domaine Clarence Dillon, owner of Château Haut-Brion
2005: Launches mid-market wine brand, Clarendelle
2008: Takes over as Chairman
2009: Completes major refurbishment at Château La Mission Haut-Brion and begins the same at Château Haut-Brion
2011: Acquires Château Quintus
2015: Opens Le Clarence restaurant and La Cave du Château wine shop in Paris
2021: Opens the Pavillon Catelan visitor centre and La Cave du Château at Haut-Brion
2025: Château Haut-Brion cellar refurbishment due to be completed

Find out more: domaineclarencedillon.com

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Reading time: 16 min
hilltop hotel in vineyards
hilltop hotel in vineyards

The Castello Banfi wine resort. Photograph by I. Franchini.

Staying at two wine estates at opposite ends of the region, LUX experiences fine wines, history, cuisine and the spiritual tranquillity that only Tuscany can offer. First up is Castello Banfi Il Borgo, a wine estate and historic hilltop hamlet transformed into a luxury hotel

Where

On a hilltop in the far south of Tuscany, above a broad sweep of valley and plains, with the massive, looming forested ancient Etruscan volcano of Monte Amiata in the far distance.

The arrival

You know you’re in wine country when you drive to Castello Banfi. The land for miles in every direction is covered with vineyards; a smooth, quiet road leads to the estate from the main road connecting Montalcino, on its hilltop to the north, with Sant’Angelo Scalo in the flat valley below. Banfi is not just a wine estate, it is a hamlet, all converted into a luxury hotel (il Borgo), wine estate and celebrated restaurant. There is even a museum of glass bottles. The feeling is that you have arrived at a very exclusive destination, but a working one, with the vines all around making some of the most famous wines of Tuscany. The ‘hotel’ is the cluster of buildings down the single cobbled road of the hamlet, which have been artfully and expensively restored.

historic fortress

rose garden

The restored hilltop fortress (above) with its rose garden

The views

The place to be here is the pool, which looks out to the south, over vineyards, agricultural land, and plains, over to forested hills in the far distance, many miles away, beyond which are the beaches of the Maremma. At night, you can sit on the grass by the pool and try and guess how far away each point of light in the blackness of the land is: 10km? 20km? In contrast to northern Tuscany, the views here are vast, unending, almost unsettling in their scale. Or is the best view from the bedrooms, which look out over a terrace and to the Monte Amiata volcano in the distance to the east? You are spoiled for choice with different vistas here.

swimming pool and vineyards

The swimming pool with views over the vineyards. Photograph by Darius Sanai

The rooms

The old hamlet’s rooms have been cleverly repurposed into a luxury setting, with beautifully treated woods, marble and fabrics. They are less about light and more about texture, although throwing a window open always reveals a dramatic sight of vineyard and horizon.

Read more: Why Maslina Resort, Hvar makes the perfect summer destination

luxurious hotel suite

One of the suites at the Hotel Il Borgo

Wining and dining

Banfi is known to connoisseurs around the world as one of the most significant producers of Tuscan wines. We were given the rare pleasure of a tasting personally overseen by the estate’s director Enrico Viglierchio. The Poggio alle Mura, one of the prestige cuvées of Banfi, is made from a blend of some of the best vineyard sites in the area, many of which you drive through as you approach the estate. Deep, powerful and rich, it’s a Brunello di Montalcino for those who love their wines to resonate. Meanwhile the range-topping Poggio all’Oro is elegant, almost delicate, its older vintages having a complexity of earthy layers, a connoisseur’s wine. You can choose from those and many more at the Sala dei Grappoli fine dining restaurant, in a medieval courtyard, which serves elaborate, intricate, complex cuisine like total black crisp egg, pallone di gravina cheese foam, avocado and Cinta Senese pork dust (and that’s just a starter). There’s also La Taverna for more relaxed, hearty Tuscan dining indoors.

taverna style restaurant

The Taverna restaurant

The highlight

Apart from the wines, it’s the architecture of this intimate private village, and the way you and the other guests (never many of them) feel that you have a whole, perfectly tended, luxury hilltop community and all its astonishing sightlines to yourselves.

LUX rating: 9/10

Book your stay: castellobanfiwineresort.it

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue.

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Reading time: 3 min
mother and daughter in vineyard
mother and daughter in vineyard

Amélie Buecher, winemaker at Vignoble des 2 Lunes

LUX tries an at-home wine tasting experience with VIVANT, and discovers a group of women who are committed to producing and promoting organic wine

After a tiresome year of Zoom meetings, virtual exhibitions and product launches, it’s difficult to get properly excited by the idea of another digital platform, even if there is the alluring promise of real wine to drink at home, but – and bear with us here – VIVANT is actually doing something a little bit different.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Launched by American entrepreneur and investor Michael Baum, VIVANT is a super slick, ultra modern online market place/educational centre/streaming service for wine enthusiasts who not only want to drink great wine, but also learn about it from expert advisors and producers through interactive wine experiences and beautifully curated content.

wine tasting test tubes

VIVANT’s ‘Women in Wine’ tasting kit

There’s a wide selection of experiences to choose from, divided into categories such as ‘Food & Wine’ or ‘For Serious Wine Geeks’ with varying difficulties depending on your existing wine knowledge. We were invited to experience the ‘Women in Wine’ tasting event and about a week before kick-off (the events happen in real time), a beautiful, white box arrived by courier, containing six 100ml test tubes of wine along with the login details for the platform.

Eventually the evening rolled around, we logged onto the site, and the event began promptly at 6pm with the virtual appearance of our wine advisor Kateryna Dobbert. The format was impressively futuristic, resembling a kind of spaceship control panel with Kateryna talking in the centre of the screen and a message board running down the side where participants could enter questions, comments and ‘cheers’ other members by pressing a wine glass icon. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy, but it got more fun after a few (or several) sips of wine, and we realised that we could earn points through our interactions which contributed to our VIVANT level (although we’re still not entirely sure what that level equates to beyond self-satisfaction).

Read more: Olivier Krug on champagne and music

The experience was divided into a series of videos in which the producers of each wine talked about their processes and some of the challenges they faced as women in a traditionally male-dominated industry after which Kateryna guided us through a tasting with a few follow up quiz questions to test our knowledge. It was well-focused and fast-moving, with the whole experience lasting around forty minutes, but it could have been comfortably stretched out over an hour as we occasionally felt rushed through the tasting parts.

The wines themselves were excitingly varied and after the experience ended, the platform handily saved the corresponding bottles to our profile, avoiding the hassle of having to note down the names of our favourites.

women winemaker

Coralie Delecheneau, winemaker at Domaine La Grange Tiphaine

While our experience highlighted women in the wine industry, VIVANT is centred around promoting and supporting sustainable producers and organic wines. Each of their winemakers is required to sign the VIVANT environmental pledge, which, amongst other things, promises that no synthetic chemicals or additives will be used in the vineyards or wine making processes. The general idea is to create a global community of producers and consumers who are committed to making more environmentally-conscious choices and although the future remains to be seen, it feels like a good start.

Find out more: vivant.eco

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Reading time: 2 min
wine estate
wine estate

Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

For the cosmopolitan Prince Robert de Luxembourg, owning one of the world’s most celebrated wine estates, Château Haut-Brion, was not enough. The former Hollywood screenwriter is creating a world of fine wine and cuisine fantasy for visitors to enjoy in Bordeaux and Paris – and much more besides. Darius Sanai chats to the Prince about the future of Thomas Jefferson’s favourite estate

Chatting in fluent English about online retail and the Chinese social media app WeChat, Prince Robert de Luxembourg does not exactly conform to a preconception of a European prince who owns the longest established of all the great Bordeaux wine estates.

And yet since he took over Domaine Clarence Dillon, maker of Château Haut-Brion, in 2003, Prince Robert has transformed the company, taking it from being the maker of a couple of the most celebrated wines in the world (Haut-Brion and its sister, La Mission, and their second wines) but little else (and a little profit), to a business employing 200 people with five different wine ranges, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, an upmarket wine store next door, an online fine-wine retail business and a wholesaling arm.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

To add a little tannin to the story, Prince Robert, despite being born into the family that owns Château Haut-Brion, was not even intending to run it. In his youth, he was a successful screenwriter, spotted by Creative Artists in Los Angeles, with one of his scripts optioned by Steven Spielberg. To this day, he looks as if he would be as comfortable sipping a margarita in Malibu as a glass of the legendary 1989 vintage of his wine in Bordeaux.

You also feel he has only just begun on his journey of creating a real enterprise around a gem that was previously, if not neglected then certainly not fully polished.

He insists that he will not, unlike Bernard Arnault of LVMH, luxury magnate and owner of the equally celebrated Château Cheval Blanc, be lending his wine’s name to a hotel group. But there is more in the offing, including a tasting, dining and museum facility at the château itself. Unlike Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Lafite and Margaux, Haut-Brion is easily accessible from the city and airport of Bordeaux, and it is a place where he is determined that any lover of great wines should be able to visit and enjoy.

man looking out of window

Prince Robert de Luxembourg. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: What were your dreams when you were young?
Robert de Luxembourg: Like all of us, I had all kinds of different dreams depending on my age and some of them were realistic and some were less so.

LUX: Not many owners of Bordeaux First Growths lived in the US and were scouted as screen writers by Stephen Spielberg.
Robert de Luxembourg: I lived in the US only because I went to university there for a short while (at Georgetown) in Washington DC. I was there for under two years. We’ve always had family properties in Maine up in the north-east where I go every summer. Afterwards, thanks to my future wife, we became involved in screenwriting. She was very keen and had done some courses and was working on some ideas and had written a couple of films before I became involved with her, and we wrote a first speculative script when we were living all over the place, including France and driving around. That was the one that was picked up by Creative Artists in Los Angeles and we were signed as young writers; there was interest from Spielberg in that script but we ended up auctioning it to Columbia Pictures and then we worked with different people on it including Peters Entertainment, Original Film and David Heyman. We would come and go. Creative Artists would set up two weeks of meetings for us; and then Columbia and David actually hired us to write another screenplay.

Read more: Penélope Cruz on designing jewellery for Swarovski

LUX: Does a bit of you wish you’d carried on?
Robert de Luxembourg: You can’t do everything in life, and what appealed to me initially about that was I was working with my future wife, and then the realities of our lives made it a bit more complex. I loved the purely creative process. But I have been able to enjoy that in the work that I do in the wine industry throughout all kinds of different projects, whether it’s in the wine estates’ architectural projects or whether it’s developing business ideas. My need, I have come to understand over time, is to be able to develop projects and to basically be able to tell a story and then see that story come to life. So, I have been continuing to write these stories even if they are virtual and seeing them come to life whether it is at Le Clarence or La Cave du Château, or whether it is creating our wholesale business plans.

Vintage photograph men in wine cellar

Seymour Weller and Douglas Dillon, respectively nephew and son of Clarence Dillon. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: Was it always inevitable you would go into the family business?
Robert de Luxembourg: In 1993 it was clear that we needed to have the involvement of a young family member in the business. My mother was older and my stepfather, her husband, who was also managing director of the company, was also older, so there was a definite need to bring in new blood. At the time my writing was going well, so I spoke to my grandfather because I could see my career moving away from the family business, and I said, “I’ve been led to believe that there might be interest in me becoming involved. If that is the case, it’s really going to be now or never”. I had moved back to Europe, I was starting a family, I had bought a property and was building a house and all the rest of it, and so I was physically present and I could do it.

I didn’t know to what degree it would become such a central part of my life or how time consuming it would be at the time, but I said to him I don’t just want to be a caretaker if I become involved. I didn’t want to be involved for the glory of being associated with a wonderful story which is Haut-Brion, but to look after the business and develop it, and so he agreed with that, and then I became involved.

wood-panelled library

The library at Château Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: What was your plan when you started?
Robert de Luxembourg: I had to deal with the most basic things, like branding for example. I also wanted to make sure that we had as much focus on La Mission Haut-Brion [the sister property of Château Haut-Brion, regarded by many experts as equally good] as Haut-Brion so that they were both treated as equals. The business had always been a folly, never a business, we never took any money out of it. It was really just about making exceptional wine. I recognised that was not going to be a way that we could maintain family ownership over the generations. You have to also have a vision, you have to also be able to develop the business, and eventually down the road have a realistic income stream for future beneficiaries.

The story we had to tell was just extraordinary. We wanted to communicate it properly to the outside world, including that Haut-Brion has the most extraordinary wine history of any of the estates in Bordeaux, and we didn’t talk about it enough. Haut-Brion’s red wine as we know it today was basically invented by the Pontac family, and we had this extraordinary story of how the first vines were planted there probably in the first century AD, whereas the Médoc [the main red wine region of the left bank of Bordeaux] was only developed in the 17th century, so 1,600 years later. We were really the birthplace of the great wines of Bordeaux.

Read more: Designer Ali Behnam-Bakhtiar on bringing dream worlds to life

The Pontac family started all of these technological advancements, meaning they were able to develop the new French claret (red Bordeaux wine) that became famous thanks to their extraordinary marketing tool of opening up the Pontac’s Head tavern in London in 1666 after the great fire of London, where all of the cognoscenti at the time would go; everyone from John Locke and Isaac Newton to John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys would be there.

Since then, there has been the development of a new wine estate, Quintus, which really came into existence in 2011, so next year we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. And then the creation of Clarendelle [high-quality entry-level white, rosé, red and sweet wines]. And that was an easy story for me to tell. I was a young man looking for a great bottle of wine that had a little bit of age on it where I wasn’t going to have to break the bank and have to store in a cellar in London because I didn’t have one. I could buy extraordinary aged Spanish wines or even some Italian wines but I couldn’t find anything from Bordeaux that had the regularity or quality at that price point. That’s where that idea came from.

LUX: With something like Le Clarence, the two Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris that opened in 2015, how do you decide that something which might be interesting to do will also be a good business?
Robert de Luxembourg:  There’s a little bit of a field-of-dreams scenario in some cases in that if you build something then they will come. Le Clarence was inspired by the Pontac family opening up this extraordinary restaurant in London in 1666 where they introduced the new French wines of Haut-Brion. It became the most hyped-up meeting spot in that city, and I also thought if they can do that in 1666 after the Great Fire of London, we could open something up in the heart of the most visited city in the world, Paris, a few feet from the most visited shopping street in the world, the Champs-Élysées. If they were successful then, why not now?

chef in the kitchen

fine dining

Le Clarence chef Christophe Pelé (above) and a dish of sea urchin with nasturtium. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

My wife told me I was absolutely crazy but I said why not do something a little bit different, I would like to design it myself, decorate it myself, build the team around it myself and do something that’s unlike anything else that’s out there. Because I could see the way that people would react when I would invite them to Haut-Brion; they would come to the château for lunch and you could see that people were charmed by that experience. It’s a home, it’s a family story, it’s a historical story and no one else can tell that story but us.

Today it is easy to find perfection in all of these designer restaurants in great hotels around the world that are designed by the same people oftentimes. But I think what’s truly priceless is finding a soul and also finding a perfection in imperfection.

LUX: And what about the idea of starting a wine shop in a city, Paris, that has no shortage of them?
Robert de Luxembourg: Once again, it was about how do you create a unique experience. You can see what Hedonism Wines did in London for example. You didn’t have a lack of wine shops in London yet what Hedonism did was unique and founded a new customer base. Also, Sotheby’s have done an amazing job with their wine shop in Manhattan. La Cave du Château is very specifically focused on the best French produce. My first job was writing letters to about 500 wine producers in France asking them and begging them if they could give us a few bottles to sell directly from the estate. And then creating an environment that was beautiful.

La Cave has developed into an e-tailer, a rather exciting new development that has been a lifesaver for us over the last few months.

Wine cellar

La Cave du Château. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

LUX: Walking around La Cave and Le Clarence, you feel that they are more private clubs than commercial entities.
Robert de Luxembourg: Ha, yes, I know, it does not look very commercial. But once again, that’s the ultimate luxury. You don’t want to be going to a place where you are right next to other people. For a lot of these people today the ultimate luxury is being comfortable, you don’t want to be overheard by the next table, you want to be in a place where you have space and a sense of privacy. The premise was to receive people the way we receive people at the château in Bordeaux, and to have a place where, before you go down to lunch, you can go and sit in the living room and have a glass of champagne, and after dinner you can go up and have a brandy as you would in the château, and if you want to go outside and have a cigar you can do so.

LUX: And we know you have more plans…
Robert de Luxembourg: Yes, we will be opening up private dining rooms in Bordeaux, with a visitors’ centre. We will have a new Cave du Château which we’ll open up in our visitors’ centre, managed by our retail arm. We will have multiple private dining rooms there, and they can have an experience like the one they can have at Le Clarence but with an extraordinary wine shop downstairs, right within the vineyards of Haut-Brion.

Wine glass and bottle

Château Haut-Brion’s acclaimed 1985 vintage. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

Prince Robert de Luxembourg’s desert island wines: Château Haut-Brion 1945, Château Haut-Brion 1989, Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1955, Château Haut-Brion Blanc 1989, Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc 2009, Château Quintus 2019

LUX: With Château Haut-Brion, you are the guardian of one of the world’s great luxury brands. How does that feel?
Robert de Luxembourg: I’d like to say it’s the greatest! I don’t know – it depends how you define a brand. I am not arrogant because I am not responsible for it.

LUX: Traditionally, awareness of the great Bordeaux wines was handed down from parent to child – unfortunately, usually father to son. Now there are so many new markets – how do you pass the message on to the latest generation of wine lovers, and how do you ensure that the status of the brand is clear?
Robert de Luxembourg: It’s a challenge for us. When I first got into this space, a real wine lover in New York or Singapore or Hong Kong would say how exceptional our wines were. But none of our competitors had the regularity of the past century that we had at Haut-Brion. That was something not really known by the greater public, and it was something I felt we needed to work on.

We continue to be active and interact with people. We were the first First Growth to have our own server and website in China or have a YouTube channel or a WeChat account for our wholesale business, or to open up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for our vineyards.

You will probably remember that it was considered that luxury brands should not be represented in this space, and it took away from the experience. I disagree with that because I think if you controlled the way you do it you can reach this audience, especially a young audience. Our client base was changing and we needed to adapt to the youth.

chateau building

The chapel of Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

LUX: And what about the wines themselves? There are commentators who say wine now is better than it has ever been because of advances in winemaking techniques. And others who say that, for example, the 1945 vintage is still the best ever made.
Robert de Luxembourg: The 1945 is the finest Haut-Brion that I have had the pleasure of enjoying. I have only had it about three times in my life. We sold the last eight bottles for charity about ten years ago, and we have none left.

But the unfortunate truth is that global warming has been beneficial to the regularity of quality with wines we’ve produced, alongside the technological advances. If you look at a temperature chart of south-western France over the years, and the heat of those particular years, you will note that the better vintages like the 1945 and 1989 are always the hottest vintages. I don’t want to take anything away from our winemakers and their work, but their work is easier dealing with a 1945, 1959 or a 1961 vintage.

Read more: Meet the marine biologist pioneering coral conservation

Yes, it is helped by technology and science, and also by massive investment. We have been in a golden period for the great wines of Bordeaux, and so we have made more money and thus are able to invest more money in all of our businesses and we always try and push the envelope and do better every year. And then we’ve had the arrival of the wine critics who have always encouraged and helped us to a degree, because we have people looking over our shoulder so you can’t get it wrong today. So, yes, I don’t think we have ever made better wines over a period of time than over the past two decades, and our climate conditions have greatly helped us.

LUX: Many wine lovers, after starting their First Growth cellar with the likes of Château Lafite and Château Margaux, eventually gravitate towards Château Haut-Brion. Why?
Robert de Luxembourg:As a wine lover, and I consider myself to be a wine lover before a wine producer, you tend to gravitate away from things that are easier to understand towards things that are more subtle and more difficult to understand.

And that is a disadvantage for Haut-Brion when you are doing a blind tasting and you are not eating and your more easily able on a cerebral level to recognise bulky and more fruit-filled wines. As you age and you become more educated, you want to have a different experience I think you look for something that sets off multiple parts of your gustatory experience, hitting certain spots you are not able to reach with other wines. It’s the same with a painting or a piece of music.

You might find it shocking and enjoyable to see a Pop art piece but over time you maybe gravitate towards something that’s a little bit more complex and has a little bit more depth, with more layers. And Haut-Brion is an intellectual wine because of the terroir, but also because of the way the wine is produced. We have always had that at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. They are wines that are more difficult to understand, but when you want to grow as a taster, they are remarkable wines. You see that people eventually gravitate towards lighter extraordinary wines, and great Burgundies which I love also, and I think that is also explained by seeking out something very subtle, elegant and complex.

LUX: What are the unique opportunities and challenges of running a family wine business?
Robert de Luxembourg: Already just being in the world of wine, there is the notion that we aren’t doing anything for tomorrow. A decision that I will make to pull up a parcel of vines and replant it will probably still benefit my grandchildren if they are lucky enough to be involved in the business. We don’t anticipate being able to have a short-term return on many of these projects. We didn’t take a penny out of the business for the first six decades of running this company. It really was a folly of my great-grandfather [Clarence Dillon, who acquired Château Haut-Brion in 1935] that was then inherited by his children.

Today we can’t just sit on our laurels and think that we are managing a jewel of today and being proud of being the wardens or owners of this jewel. We have to have a business that makes sense for future generations and shows some evolutionary growth because otherwise you will immediately get frustrations from the generations to come that build up, and we know how that ends. So that’s a big part of it, great people keeping great people on board, sharing that message with them, making sure they buy into that and we’ve been able to do that with all our companies.

We’ve had relative stability across the board with the teams of people that I work with. Take Jean-Philippe Delmas, a third-generation winemaker at our estate. His family arrived at Haut-Brion in 1923, so they are about to celebrate their century with us, but his is one of multiple families that have been with us for generations.

country estate

Château Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

Winemaker and Deputy General Manager Jean-Philippe Delmas on the greatest wines from the Domaine Clarence Dillon estates

Château Quintus red 2011
We acquired this property in June 2011, so this is a first vintage. It is located on a promontory overlooking the Dordogne valley at the south-west end of Saint-Émilion. This wine is blended equally between Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It’s a sublime marriage of the finesse and elegance of Cabernet Franc with the power, colour and sweetness of Merlot.

Château Haut-Brion red 1989
Certainly the greatest success of all the wines produced by my father. Its harmony is close to perfection with a breathtaking intensity and aromatic complexity combining cedar, eucalyptus, mint, roasting and Havana. The whole tannic structure is coated, giving this wine an unexpected sweetness. This vintage remains and will remain a reference.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion red 2003
This is a vintage when the summer was scorching, so we started the red harvest in mid-August, working at sunrise at the coolest time of the day with refrigerated trucks to preserve the freshness until the vat. It is one of the few Mission vintages where there is a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon. The magic of this terroir does the rest with an incredibly fresh wine.

Château Quintus red 2019
This is the latest addition to this beautiful property in Saint-Émilion. After almost a decade of meticulous work, we have succeeded in creating not only a new brand, but also a new wine with its own identity. Over the years, we have patiently drawn the personality of this wine and have achieved our goal with this vintage.

Château Haut-Brion red 1929
Of all the vintages made by my grandfather, this is the greatest. Even today, this wine has an amazing youth. The great density of this wine has allowed it to travel back in time. It has all the characteristics of the great wines that this terroir can produce – an aromatic signature, elegance and inimitable silky touch.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion red 2009
2009 seems to me to be the modern version of the legendary 1989. In this wine, we find all the characteristics of La Mission, with very rich, deep, spherical and coated wines. This wine charms you with its precision, a tannic structure counterbalanced by sweetness akin to velvet.

Find out more: haut-brion.com

This article features in the Autumn Issue, which will be published later this month.

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Reading time: 20 min
wine bottles
wine bottles

Ornellaia 2017 Solare Vendemmia d’Artista 6 litre with label designs by Tomás Saraceno

This week, Italian wine producer Ornellaia opened its 12th annual online benefit auction in collaboration with Sotheby’s and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, featuring vintages with label designs by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno. Chloe Frost Smith takes a closer look at the available lots
artist signing work

© Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2019

This year’s auction continues Ornellaia’s Vendemmia d’Artista project, which commissions a different contemporary artist each year to create an artwork for a series of limited-edition labels. The artist is given a single word description of that year’s harvest by the estate director, Axel Heinz, as inspiration. Last year, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat responded to ‘La Tensione’ with a series of monochrome photographs, and this year, Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno has incorporated ‘Solare’ (‘radiant’ in English) into several aspects of his designs.

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Renowned for his interactive installations that allude to new sustainable ways of living, Saraceno has created a striking set of labels which depict various phases of a solar eclipse for nine lots of Imperials, to be sold individually or in pairs. The auction’s most prestigious lot comes in the form of the Salmanazar sculpture, titled “PNEUMA 4.21×105”, an impressive 9-litre bottle of Ornellaia 2017 topped with a floating sphere anchored to the neck of the bottle. Reminiscent of the artist’s previous work on untethered flight, this celestial sculpture highlights the importance of the relationship between the Sun and the Earth, and of renewable resources more generally.

three wine bottles

Ornellaia 2017 Solare Vendemmia D’Artista, with various designs by Tomás Saraceno including the Salmanazar sculpture (centre)

Not only embodying ‘Solare’ visually, the labels are a tangible take on the concept – made from thermochromic paper, which changes colour according to the heat of a person’s hand. This sensory detail invites reflection on the impact of humanity on the planet, in keeping with the wider issue of environmental sustainability which is at the heart of both Saraceno’s artistic ethos and Ornellaia’s production philosophy, which has long focused on self-sustaining ecosystems and precision agriculture.

Bringing a sense of completion to the auction, a unique vertical of the last six years of Ornellaia is available, in twelve 750ml bottles featuring the customised labels in a celebratory wooden case, alongside six Ornellaia Bianco magnums from the last three vintages.

The auction ends on 9 September 2020. Register via: sothebys.com/ornellaia 

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Reading time: 2 min
Standing wine cabinet

Standing wine cabinet

Portrait of woman in white shirt

Lucy Hargreaves

British-owned business Spiral Cellars designs, makes and installs a range of luxury wine storage options from free-standing cabinets to bespoke wine rooms. Here, Managing Director Lucy Hargreaves shares her tips on choosing the best storage option, and explains why storing wine has become a greater priority for consumers

1. As an investor, what first attracted you to Spiral Cellars?

I started collecting wine when I was in my early 30s. What started out as an occasional case bought on a whim at a wine fair, soon became a more regular habit. I would go on tips to wineries and would send a few cases of my liquid finds back home. Trouble was, I was buying at a greater rate than I was drinking (despite my best efforts …) . The house was beginning to look like a wine merchants with boxes stacked everywhere, so when the opportunity to invest in Spiral Cellars presented itself, it was a no brainer.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

2. How has the company evolved over the years?

In the beginning, we only sold the one product, our eponymous underground Spiral Cellar, but over the years, the range of products we offer has greatly expanded, so much so that we can now proudly claim to offer the broadest range of luxury wine storage on the market. Our portfolio of cellaring solutions now includes state-of-the-art contemporary glass wine walls, more modest yet still elegant freestanding wine cabinets, bespoke wine rooms and of course, our statement underground cellars. With the range of cellaring solutions we offer, we can create storage to suit a wide range of requirements, personal tastes, budgets and available space.

The expansion of our product portfolio was in response to changing customer needs and expectations. Wine storage used to be an after-thought, with bottles hidden away in the bowels of the house. But then, as more of us started to drink higher quality wines, coupled with the growth of home entertaining, wine storage underwent something of a renaissance. Suddenly, cellaring was no longer just a pragmatic storage solution, it became a highly desirable interior feature.

3. What sets your products apart?

Our products are born out of experience. Over the last 40 years, we have installed more than 4,000 cellars in the UK alone and numerous others around the world. It’s fair to say that this has given us a degree of experience and cellaring know-how that is simply unrivalled within the industry. Our clients can enjoy total peace of mind, confident their wine is safely and securely housed in a Spiral Cellar wine room, cabinet, wall or cellar. And as we all know, you can’t put a value on peace of mind.

Wine storage basement cellar

The company’s original product the Spiral Cellar offers a stylish and space efficient storage option

4. How important is it for your team to be knowledgeable about wine?

Wine cellaring is actually a very complicated business. It’s not easy to create the exacting environmental conditions required to aid wine maturation. Yes it’s important that our wine cellars, rooms, walls and cabinets look beautiful, but more fundamentally, it’s crucial that they provide the ideal environmental conditions in which to store both ready-to-drink wine and bottles that need longer term cellaring. To help our team appreciate the intricacies of wine cellaring, they need to appreciate wine. That’s why it’s a requirement that everyone in the company takes the WSET Level 1 course, the exception being our design team who must sit Level 2. I passionately believe that our designers build better cellars because they truly understand wine.

Read more: View James Turrell’s immersive light installations online at Pace Gallery, London

5. What advice would you give to a client considering a cellar installation?

The golden rule is to start with the wine, rather than the space. Take the time to really ask questions of your collection. What size is it currently? Is it likely to grow over time and at what pace? Will you be looking to store larger or unusually shaped bottles in your cellar? What about cases, spirits, stemware etc? Once the storage parameters have been set, it’s then time to think about the form and style the storage will take, and where it will be located within the home. Clients assume that the latter is an obvious decision, but you would be amazed at the number of times we are approached to design storage to suit a particular space, only for it to be positioned elsewhere having visited the client’s property.

6. What’s your favourite wine to drink at home?

I do have some favourites (you can’t go wrong with a decent Zinfandel), but my real love is trying new wines. I’m lucky to have friends in the industry who have introduced me to some absolute gems over the years. I recently had a bottle of Gaja Barbaresco 2008, a case of which was given to me by a grateful client. It’s by no means an everyday wine, but my goodness, it was special.

Find out more: spiralcellars.co.uk

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Reading time: 4 min
Woman sitting on leather sofa in a contemporary space
Woman sitting on leather sofa in a contemporary space

Shirin Neshat at home in New York City

Shirin Neshat’s devastatingly striking art combines dream, reality and an undercurrent of anger and sadness. As a major retrospective of her work is held in Los Angeles, Millie Walton meets the artist at the launch of her collaboration with celebrated Italian winemaker Ornellaia, famous for its artist labels

Portrait photography of Shirin Neshat at home in New York by Maryam Eisler

Iranian-born filmmaker and artist Shirin Neshat sits demurely drinking a cup of coffee in the palatial breakfast room at Baglioni Hotel Luna in Venice. It’s the morning after the Sotheby’s auction at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which saw the sale of limited-edition bottles of 2016 Ornellaia wine with Neshat’s label artwork. A total of $312,000 was raised, with all profits going to the Mind’s Eye programme, which was conceived by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to help blind people experience art through the use of other senses.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

The success of Neshat’s collaboration, following that of William Kentridge’s in 2018, was well deserving of late-night celebrations, but the artist is composed and alert, her jet-black hair scraped tightly back from her face, and her dark eyes lined with black kohl. It’s a look that would seem somewhat severe or even theatrical on most, but Neshat wears it with authenticity, grace and a sense of homeliness. She pulls up another chair close to hers so that I can hear what she’s saying over the clamour of the breakfast buffet and tells me that she’s been ordering coffee to her room each morning and is worried that Ornellaia will have to foot the bill. Given the sum raised last night along with Neshat’s status as the world’s most important and widely recognised contemporary Iranian artist, it’s hard not to laugh, but she speaks softly and sincerely, taking time to consider each of her answers and apologising when yet another admirer interrupts for an autograph. She has a lot of fans it seems, yet her politically engaged work continues to generate debate. She admits, “Some people dislike what I do. There are a lot of people who hate my work in Iran, but still it is discussed, so I think I’m relevant.”

Monochrome image of white-shirted men on a cliff edge

Veiled women walking across a beach towards the sea

Here and above: stills from Neshat’s video Rapture (1999)

Neshat was born in the city of Qazvin, north-west of Tehran, but left for California at the age of 17 to finish her schooling. Her training as an artist began with her undergraduate and masters degrees in fine art at the University of California, Berkeley. However, she abandoned art-making and moved from Los Angeles to New York in the early 1980s. It was a decade later, through photography first and then film, that she found her artistic vision. She has now been working as an artist for more than 30 years and has won numerous international awards, including the Golden Lion at the 1999 edition of the Venice Biennale for her powerful short film Turbluent, which explores gender roles and social restrictions in Iranian culture. The film plays out on two screens: one shows a male performer singing a love song by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi to a large audience of men, whilst on the other screen, a veiled woman waits in an empty auditorium, her back turned to the camera. When the man’s performance finishes, the woman begins a wordless song of guttural cries, mournful melodies, panting and animalistic screeching. This film was not only significant in establishing Neshat’s career, but also in paving the way for her succeeding works, which all, in one way or another, deal with the restrictions of female experience. Though embedded in narratives of conflict, Neshat’s work offers a sense of hope in which women find freedom through art in all its various guises.

Monochrome image of hands inscribed with symbols

Artist labels for wine bottles

Neshat’s designs for Ornellaia’s ‘La Tensione’ bottle label

Man shaking hand of woman at event

Neshat with Ornellaia’s estate director Axel Heinz

Given these preoccupations, the artist’s decision to collaborate with Tuscan winemaker Ornellaia is somewhat baffling. “In our culture, wine is a way not to escape, but to transcend reality and so [drinking wine] is a sacred, spiritual act,” says Neshat. “But in general, I feel like an occasional step out of your own milieu is actually very positive. For one thing, it puts your work in front of a new audience, but also, for me, [commercial work] is an attractive way of financing my projects. I make work that takes me six years and I make zero money so I think that any patronage that finances your practice and gives you the freedom to do your work is great.” Her series of images for Ornellaia, interpreting the theme ‘La Tensione’ which gives this vintage its name, depict white hands inscribed with Persian script, luminous against a black background. The use of hands, along with literature and monochromatic shades are all typical of Neshat’s aesthetic and imbue the work with a haunting, dreamlike quality. “I’m very interested in the subtlety of body postures and how they can reveal emotion, especially coming from the Islamic tradition and how provocative and problematic the body can be,” she says. “There’s a certain universality about hand gestures.” She places one palm against her chest: “This, for example, could be love”.

Portrait of a man illustrated with Farsi script

Ibrahim (Patriots) from The Book of Kings series (2012) by Shirin Neshat

The work is reminiscent of Neshat’s first series of black-and-white photographs, entitled Women of Allah (1993–97), which was created following the artist’s return to Iran in 1990, her first visit following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. When Neshat arrived back in Iran, it was in the wake of dramatic cultural changes. Women of Allah not only marked the rebirth of her making art, but also her engagement with the country’s political landscape – an engagement which led to her current state of exile. The series focuses on female martyrdom, showing veiled women holding weapons, their faces, hands and feet again inscribed with Farsi poetry, highlighting the revolutionary Iranians’ dual identities as both Persians and radical Islamists, as well as the tension between devotion and violence.

Read more: Introducing the next generation of filmmakers at Frieze LA

Her practice continues to be preoccupied with contrasts, highlighted by the minimalism of black and white, but also with conflict. “There are plenty of artists whose making of art is an aesthetic exercise, which is important because it has intellectual and artistic values of the highest level,” she explains. “But for artists born to a country like Iran, the relationship to art is personal in a way that it cannot be separated from daily realities. I don’t think we have the emotional capability of distancing ourselves from these issues, and it is an incredibly fulfilling process when you make work that is politically conscious. It also means that you have a relationship with an audience that is larger than the [usual] art audience because people are able to identify with the subject matter.”

Woman crouches in doorway to stroke dog

Despite Neshat’s acute political engagement, her work has a sense of timelessness achieved by incorporating literature and music as well as elements of the surreal. “Music is very existential,” she says. “It sort of neutralizes a political reality, but it also contains all these cultural references and has a strong physical impact. Powerful music affects your heart.” This is perhaps most apparent in Turbulent, which was inspired by a young blind woman who Neshat saw singing on the streets of Istanbul. Many of her works have involved collaborations with composers and musicians as well as writers and cinematographers. “It’s an essential part of my work to collaborate, especially with people who know me and my work well,” she says. “I’m doing a lot of work in media that I never studied. It’s been really interesting to surround myself with people who have the expertise.”

Artist working in her studio

The artist in her studio

Neshat’s artistic ‘family’ is international, but she has gravitated towards other Iranians in New York: “I am sitting on the outside [of Iranian culture], others are by choice and others not; either way, we’re naturally drawn to each other and spend a lot of time helping each other. I do feel integrated in American culture as far as the artwork goes, but I can also see the limitations of not being Western, when your practice is considered to be a little bit outside the box.” Reflecting this duality, Neshat curated ‘A Bridge Between You and Everything’, an exhibition of Iranian women artists held at the High Line Nine Galleries in New York in November 2019.

Portrait of a girl sitting in front of illustrated wall

Raven Brewer-Beltz (2019) by Shirin Neshat

Neshat has called New York her home for many years, but her latest project, Land of Dreams, is the first time that she has directly turned her artistic attention towards the US. The project explores her experiences of being an immigrant, focusing on an Iranian woman who collects dreams that portray American people and takes them back to an Iranian colony for analysis. The project is now being shown for the first time as part of Neshat’s major retrospective ‘I Will Greet the Sun Again’ at The Broad in LA, and one wonders at the colony’s interpretations. “It’s kind of an absurd comedy,” she laughs, “but it was also [about] how to tackle a very important political subject – the antagonism between the two cultures as well as the corruption on both sides – through a human surrealism so that it escapes absolute realism. I want it to be timely, but I don’t want it to have no value in a hundred years’ time.” Are these surreal imaginings ever drawn from Neshat’s own dreams? “Yes, I try to write down my dreams every time I wake up. I like how ephemeral dreams are. My work is like the story that comes after.”

‘Shirin Neshat: I Will Greet the Sun Again’ is on show at The Broad, Los Angeles until 16 February 2020: thebroad.org.

Shirin Neshat ‘Land of Dreams’ opens at the Goodman Gallery in London on 20 February and will run until 28 March 2020. For more information visit: goodman-gallery.com

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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Reading time: 8 min
Contemporary kitchen interiors with wine storage cabinet
Contemporary kitchen interiors with wine storage cabinet

Eurocave’s wine storage cabinets can be built into kitchen interiors, such as this cabinet from the Inspiration range

LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai shares his experiences of storing and spoiling wine, and explains why Eurocave cabinets offer the optimum storage conditions

Wine is a subject that can engage a vast cast of humans in discussion, from friends wondering what to drink on their terrace in St Tropez next summer that won’t give them a headache, to full-on geek discussions about the grape picking dates in the grand cru vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin in 2017, via speculation on which wines will be the next to jump in price and provide a payoff for speculators.

But storing wine? I can’t remember the last time I spoke to anyone outside the wine trade about that. You buy it, you store it somewhere not too hot until it’s ready, then you drink it. What’s there to discuss?

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Quite a lot, as it happens, as how you store wine is an essential element not just of ownership, but of the point of the stuff, which is how much you enjoy drinking it. There is an old adage that there is no such thing as a great wine, just a great bottle of a wine, and much of the truth in this emanates from the extreme sensitivity of wine – any wine – to how it is stored. Wine is fermented fruit juice, and some of the finest wines contain minimal amounts of (natural) preservative, so rely almost entirely on a natural process to improve in the bottle, and also not to spoil, like any other foodstuff.

The first rule of buying wine – any wine, whether it’s a case of Domaine de la Romanee Conti, or a bottle over dinner – is provenance, which means being as sure as you can that it has been stored correctly to date. A single morning in a hot warehouse, or lying on a wharf in direct sunlight on an August day in the Mediterranean, is enough to ruin a wine, permanently. Sometimes there may be telltale signs, like the cork pushing out through the capsule, or rivers of dried wine, escaped from the bottle when the liquid expanded as it heated. Often, though, there are no signs, which means you need to trust your consignor, or know you are taking a gamble with your money.

Read more: Why responsible travel means authenticity

If provenance is what has happened to a wine until you lay hands on it, storage is what happens to a wine after you buy it. If you happen to live in a country pile with a deep, windowless cellar, or have a professional cellar in your house – congratulations, there’s no need to read on. (But even you have a proper cellar in your main home, you may not have one in every place in which you serve wine.) If not, and you plan on keeping any wine or champagne in your house more than 24 hours, ask yourself if you would store any other perishable foodstuff in a rack by your oven, in a spare room, or in a garage.

Large standalone wine cabinet

Eurocave’s Royale cabinet can store up 122 traditional Bordeaux bottles or up to 50 magnums

My own enlightenment on wine storage came after many years, and many false starts, and thousands of pounds’ worth of spoiled wines, after trying almost every alternative to spending money on the highest quality storage cabinets for wine. Here’s what happened to me and why (actually, I present those two in reverse order for reasons I hope will become evident) – hopefully this will allow you to travel a smoother route to enjoying your wines as they were made to be enjoyed:

1. Heat kills wine.

And so does direct sunlight. Once, I took up a friend’s offer to store my wine collection in his country house basement. What could possibly go wrong in damp, cool England? I was horrified to discover, on paying a social call, that the dark, damp basement I had deposited the wines in during January became a bright, hot basement in July, as its high-level windows caught the summer sun and created a greenhouse effect. The result was a lot of French wine vinegar.

2. Even if it’s dark and never hot, temperature variation kills wine.

After the country house episode, I bit the bullet and bought some wine cabinets. Declining to buy expensive “restaurant” type cabinets, I purchased small, attractive and cheap wine cabinets from a fashionable homeware store. Six months later, every bottle I opened from these cabinets was nasty. Extensive investigation revealed that these cabinets only imposed a temperature ceiling, through cooling – they had no heat facility. They were placed next to a draughty French window at home, which, in winter, when winds came from the east, let in icy air. When the wind changed, the area of the house was the same temperature as the rest of home. A 15 degree variation, often in a single day. More vinegar. (Cold conditions by themselves can also damage wine, as the liquid contracts and the resulting vacuum can suck in oxidising air).

Read more: How Hong Kong’s M+ museum will transform Asia’s art scene

3. Sunlight kills wine.

Extensive laboratory testing has proven that even a few minutes of direct sunlight can irrevocably damage a wine. That few minutes can be the sun shining onto your meticulously installed home shelving for half an hour a day during a certain month, while you’re at work and unaware. This resulted in some very rank champagnes.

Finally, a few years ago, having spent years making significant investments in wine, only to see a fair amount of that destroyed by the above, I made an investment that changed my wine life. I bought the best specification wine cabinets I could find, and since have housed every bottle I own in them. Eurocave make the fridge-sized cabinets you see in restaurants and hotels.

Wine storage cabinet shown in living room

The Eurocave Tête à Tête wine cabinet stores up to 12 bottles

Eurocave cabinets work because:

a) unlike many other species of wine cabinet, they are made to both cool and warm the air inside them, allowing a constant temperature no matter what happens outside (mine are in a garage) – this is enormously important, per point 2 above, and buying a wine cabinet which can’t do this is like buying a chocolate teapot.

b) they are extremely well insulated. This means that the effect of any outside temperature variations, or a power cut, is minimised. A lot of wine cabinets have a metal wall between inside and outside – metal is an excellent thermal conductor, meaning it is a terrible insulator.

c) they have either solid or UV-tinted doors, meaning no spoilage due to light is possible.

Within the range, there is an enormous amount of choice in terms of size, capacity and function – you can have sliding shelves for individual bottles, or fixed shelves for piles of bottles of cases. They aren’t cheap, but nor are the wines I store in them. So until you buy the country pile, or install a full cellar room (Eurocave do those) in your house, buy one. Your wines, and your future self, will thank you.

Find out more: eurocave.co.uk

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People admiring artworks in a gallery
People admiring artworks in a gallery

Guests admiring the shortlisted artworks on display in the RA’s life-drawing room

The launch event of Louis Roederer’s Brut Nature 2012 saw twelve students from the Royal Academy of Arts artistically interpret the new zero-dosage cuvée. Here, we recall the evening

Bottles of champagne and a glassEarlier this month, champagne house Louis Roederer and renowned French designer Philippe Starck presented the inaugural Brut Nature prize at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which invited young artists to interpret the brand’s new zero-dosage release through their choice of artistic medium.

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The evening was hosted by Starck, Louis Roederer’s CEO Frédéric Rouzaud and chef de caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, who announced Argentinian artist Sofía Clausse as this year’s winner for her work on paper Cycles. The artwork – an endless, growing spiral, cut from paper and rolled through a press to create an embossed effect – was made in response to the processes and style of the Champagne Brut Nature, and displayed in the RA’s life-drawing room alongside the eleven other shortlisted artists.

Girl holding trophy and bottle of champagne

Winner Sofía Clausse (standing next to her artwork Cycles) was presented with a case of Brut Nature, £3000, and a visit to Louis Roederer in Champagne

Clara Hastrup‘s artwork Self-portrait as a Champagne Fountain and Olu Ogunnaike‘s Tidally Locked also received special mentions for their unique and surprising interpretations.

For more information visit: louis-roederer.com

 

 

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Courtyard party showing large monochrome artwork of hands
Courtyard party showing large monochrome artwork of hands

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s label designs on display at the closing ceremony of the Ornellaia auction at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Italian wine producer Ornellia’s 11th annual online benefit auction in collaboration with Sotheby’s and the Solomon. R. Guggenheim museum, featured vintages with label designs by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat. Digital Editor Millie Walton recalls the closing ceremony at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Photography by James Houston

Gliding along the Venetian canals as the sun sets is one of those rare moments when real-life seems to align with cinema. More than a couple of times during the evening, as we stood in the courtyard and then, on rooftop of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection sipping glasses of Ornellaia vintage, someone compared the evening’s scene to La Grande Bellezza. We were invited though, not just for the wine, views and glamorous company, but to celebrate the funds raised by the Sotheby’s conducted auction of Ornellaia in support of the Mind’s Eye Program at the Solomon. R. Guggenheim Museum.

Party guests stand in courtyard watching a screen

Guests watching the final few minutes of the online auction projected onto a screen

Large wine bottle with artistic label

One of Neshat’s label designs

The auction is part of the Italian wine producer’s Vendemmia d’Artista project, which each year, commissions a different contemporary artist to create an artwork for a series of limited-edition labels. The artist is give a single word description of that year’s harvest as the starting point. For Shirin Neshat, the prompt was “La Tensione” (or tension in English).

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Known for her iconic monochrome aesthetic and poetic vision, the Iranian artist produced a haunting series of photographs of luminous white hands captured in various postures and inscribed with Persian script. These images became labels for bottles of the 2016 vintage, which were auctioned in 11 unique lots, the most coveted of which included a visit to the Ornellaia vineyard and a luxurious overnight stay.

Two women speaking at a drinks party

Artist Shirin Neshat, who produced a series of monochrome photographs for the Italian wine producer

Following a series of speeches from various team members at Ornellaia and Neshat herself, the auctioneer called an end to the bidding, announcing an impressive total of $312.000.

For more information on Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista visit: ornellaia.com/en/vendemmia-d-artista

 

 

 

 

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Two men sniffing a glass of white wine in a restaurant
Two men sniffing a glass of white wine in a restaurant

Sommelier Marc Almert (right) perfume training

Marc Almert was recently named Best Sommelier in the World at the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) championships in Antwerp. Originally from Cologne, the 27-year-old is currently the Head Sommelier at luxury hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich. Here, he gives us an insight into the work and passions of a top sommelier 

Young man wearing a shirt standing in front of an orange wall

Marc Almert

1. Where did your passion for wine come from?

What initially got me interested into wines was a question. I started training as a hotel specialist in my home city of Cologne and I wasn’t drinking any alcohol at the time, because I did not like it. During my training, I noticed I liked some wines and some spirits, however only on certain occasions or paired with certain foods. This intrigued me, and I wanted to understand why certain wines and beverages differ so greatly. And by asking questions and diving deeper into the topic the passion was aroused.

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2. What is more important for a great sommelier: knowledge of wine, or the ability to deal with customers?

A mix of several features makes a good sommelier. Of course, a profound knowledge of wine and other beverages is crucial. However, having an encyclopaedic knowledge and not being able to apply can be done by books to. A sommelier is a host, entertainer, coach and of course also a waiter – he or she needs to adapt to different kind of guests and their needs and tastes within mere seconds and then ensure they have a great experience throughout the entire evening.

Young man standing in front of a black wall at the Gaggenau sommelier awards

Marc Almert was also the winner of the prestigious Gaggenau Sommelier Awards in 2016

3. What is the most pleasurable part of your job? And the most frustrating?

As a sommelier you should be intimately familiar with most wine growing regions, with their geographic features, their cities, their people, their food, language and of course their wines. This is a most pleasurable and informative way to learn. Taking these new learning points back to your team and then sharing them in trainings with the Baur au Lac staff but even more so with curious guests in the restaurant is one of the most satisfying parts of my job; enhancing the guest experience at the Pavillon [restaurant] by being the vintners’ ambassador.

Wine is a natural product. Many wines are also sealed with a natural product: cork. It is often disappointing when a lot of work has gone into a great bottle of wine on behalf of the vintner, it has been stored in perfect conditions over years or even decades, the guests and myself are excited to open and try it – and then it’s tainted by its cork. That can be quite frustrating, hence I am very happy for the cork industry to keep minimising this problem with new technologies and developments.

4. Are the world’s great wines worth the price?

What do you expect from a bottle of wine you buy or open? Essentially to me it is this question that defines its worth. If it is from a legendary winemaker, a highly rated vintage and a coveted provenance, which has made it quite rare, it can well be worth its price. The price of such bottles does not necessarily reflect the mere production costs, but much more the special moments they create when sharing such a bottle amongst fellow wine lovers, the memories they bring back to trips, countries or even challenging years of history. And of course, then pairing it with intriguing food, such as from our two star chef Laurent Eperon.

Read more: Savills’ selection of luxury chalets in St. Mortiz

5. How has your job changed with the rise of wine bloggers and comparison sites?

The wine world has become a lot more transparent. This has especially led to trends evolving much faster, and quickly becoming more global than it used to be. Due to many crowd sourced comparison sites the industry has also become a little more democratic in its ratings. Furthermore, we see more and more guests coming to the restaurant that are very well informed about the wine world in general and current trends and upcoming winemakers and regions in particular.

6. You are allowed to drink only one wine (or champagne) for the rest of your life. What is it?

For a sommelier it is almost impossible to choose one single wine. If I had to though, it would probably be a well matured Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. These wines have a great structure and depth to them, vibrant acidity, low alcohol and just the right amount of sweetness – an eternal pleasure.

For more information visit: aupavillon.ch/en/marcalmert.html

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Contemporary concrete architectural entrance way to a building
Sloping vineyards with a house in the far distance

The vineyards of Masseto slope down towards the sea from the mountains of Tuscany’s Maremma region

Masseto, Italy’s most celebrated wine, is made from spectacular vineyards by the Tuscan coast, backed by ancient forests, looking out over the Mediterranean. This spring, it received a stunning new winery, whose wonders are all contained underneath the blue clay soil, as Darius Sanai, one of the wine’s most obsessive aficionados, discovers

Photography by Marius W Hansen

As you approach the Masseto winery, the overwhelming feeling is one of luminescence. There is a glow from above, and behind, as if the narrow road you’re driving along is the entrance to some new, celestial world.

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There are three shades to the luminescence. The piercing blue of the sky (the sky always seems to be blue around here in the Maremma, the coastal strip of Tuscany halfway between Pisa and Rome); the deep primordial green ahead, which emanates not from the vineyards that surround you but from a thick forest on the mountains in front, forest that looks as wild as it must have been in prehistoric times, with little or no sign of human intervention; and then there is a silver, which seems to come from a different direction altogether, subtle but enveloping. As the road heads up the slope through the vineyards and towards the new winery, you feel that you’re about to be welcomed through into another world.

Contemporary concrete architectural entrance way to a building

The entrance to the new winemaking buildings at Masseto winery

All this makes the entrance itself to the new winery, which opened this spring, even more remarkable. Rather than a great ziggurat to commemorate the otherworldly location of the home of one of the world’s greatest wines, you are greeted by a building that seems to sink far into the mountainside.

And this, perhaps, is the point. It is only when you enter between the stone sentinels at the entrance to the new winery, and disappear into the blue clay soil, that the adventure really begins.

A slim wine cellar with bottles from floor to ceiling

Masseto is perhaps the only Italian wine that has passed into the pantheon of high-luxury brands. It is a wine venerated by connoisseurs, while its serving is also seen as a mark of the ultimate respect by those with just a passing interest in wine, along with names like Pétrus, Lafite, Latour and Domaine de la Romanée- Conti – all the others are French. All the more remarkable, since Masseto has only been a wine since 1987. And since its birth, until the opening of the new winery in 2019, it has always been seen as the ‘big sister’ wine of Ornellaia, made on the same premises.

Read more: Karl-Friedrich Scheufele on Chopard’s partnership with Mille Miglia

This spring, Masseto finally received its own home, distinct from its sister wine, a few hundred metres away on another part of the same slope. The new winery is one of the most striking creations of anything in the increasingly rarefied world of fine wine.

Amid the vineyards, there is a beautiful classical building, terraced, with views across the vineyards and to the Mediterranean Sea, just a couple of miles away. It is the sea that gives Masseto’s vineyards their luminescence, and the wines themselves a kind of olfactory luminescence, lifting up and away, balancing the richness and power and complexity with a kind of angelic delicacy only the very greatest wines in the world can achieve.

Underground wine cellar designed in contemporary architecture

A table of red grapes being sorted by hands wearing white gloves

The glass-cube tasting room, and some of the merlot grapes harvested from the vineyard

But enter inside, and underground, and you are in a different universe. The landing area drops away to a vast, concrete-lined chamber, more redolent of a modern Abu Simbel in ancient Egypt than of a place where wine is made. Rows of wooden barriques line the room; everything is perfect, geometrically, but also puzzling, as if you have entered a kind of contemporary MC Escher drawing. A concrete wall swings open to reveal a room lined with what seem at first to be beautiful black tiles, but turns out to be the ends of Masseto bottles, stored geometrically in racks, black against the grey of the stone. Most remarkable of all is a glass tasting room, a cube in the middle of the winery, where you can taste wines looked on by the wines themselves, buried in the deep underbelly of Tuscany.

The architecture is the creation of Milan-based firm ZitoMori Studio. Masseto CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja comments: “Years of planning and effort have been dedicated to building the right home for Masseto. One that consolidates three decades of experience, where every aspect has been designed to meet the winemaking team’s highly detailed requirements.”

Ordered lines of wine vines in a sloping field

Contemporary clean architecture of a wall and door leading into a wine cellar

The orderliness of the vineyards outside are matched by the clean and uncluttered design of the new winery buildings

Colour portrait of a middle-aged business man

Giovanni Geddes de Filicaja, CEO of Masseto

Commercial director Alex Belson comments about the architecture: “The architectural brief specified the winery must be a masterpiece in its own right. Quite simply, we needed to give Masseto the home it deserves and its own architectural identity. The brief also stipulated the winery must have minimal visual impact, and that the existing Masseto House (a classified building on the hill above the vineyard) be restored with integrity and to meet Italian architectural heritage requirements.”

To do this, says Japanese-born architect Hikaru Mori, “We created a series of spaces, not by construction but by extraction from the hill’s monolithic mass. The diverse internal volumes, heights and levels are reminiscent of a gold mine as it follows seams of precious metal to the core.”

Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard

Axel Heinz, Masseto’s Estate Director

But the architecture would mean nothing without the wine, and Masseto is a wine that is even more special than its setting. Axel Heinz, the estate’s director, has been in charge of the winemaking since 2005 and he says, “The core of Masseto, its warp thread, is a Mahler symphony played by a full orchestra. The weft is a small chamber music ensemble. It’s that orchestral power that needs very careful handling. It has to be balanced by the softer elements, which add complexity. People sometimes describe Masseto as single vineyard wine, but it’s not. There’s an incredible range of plot expressions and different proportions of clay, gravel and earth. It’s more like an intricate patchwork, with the blue clay at its core.”

Heinz also pays tribute to the importance of the sea, both in the light it donates to the vineyards, and the cooling breezes that temper the summer heat and give the wine its freshness, however ripe the vintage. But like the greatest wines, and the greatest poetry, and the greatest vistas, you cannot analyse the beauty of Masseto. It comes from the soil, the grapes, the winemaking, the weather, the microbiome of the earth, the human appreciation of the aesthetic, both in taste and in vision.

For me, Masseto shares with a handful of wines the distinction of being rich, powerful and deep, and also feather light, almost transparent. A big, rich red wine that lifts you up, with a thousand nuances. Different vintages have different characteristics, but there is a commonality in this lightness of being that differentiates it from any other wine I have had from Italy, and which it shares with a clutch of peers at the tip of the world wine tree. Grape variety is irrelevant here. One or two of the great Napa Cabernet Sauvignons have it, as do a handful of top Bordeaux names, and the greatest (and eye-wateringly expensive) wines from the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy, Mugnier and Armand Rousseau from Burgundy. In the context of many of these peers, Masseto, whose price has rocketed over the past few years, seems positively decent value.

And none of them have a view of the Mediterranean across the coast of the Maremma. It’s going to be fun tasting future vintages in that glass tasting room.

Find out more: masseto.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 19 Issue

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Reading time: 6 min
Underground wine cellar with wooden barrels and concrete walls and ceilings
Underground wine cellar with wooden barrels and concrete walls and ceilings

Designed by ZitoMori Studio, Masseto’s new cellar lies deep beneath the Tuscan soil

Italy’s most celebrated wine producer, Masseto, recently opened a stunning new underground wine cellar. Irene Belluci discovers

Masseto’s new wine cellar has been designed to blend, or rather sink seamlessly into the curves of the Tuscan landscape. Designed by Milan-based architecture practise ZitoMori Studio, the space expands deep underground in a vast concrete chamber that feels like a sacred tomb.

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‘To represent the effort made to produce the wine made here, we created a series of spaces – not by construction, but by extraction from the hill’s monolithic mass,’ explains Hikaru Mori. ‘The different internal volumes, heights and levels are reminiscent of a gold mine as it follows seams of precious metal to the core.’ Inside, the clean lines of glass and steel balance with rows of oak barrels and textured surfaces, whilst cut-outs in the walls, frame the vineyard’s famed blue clay soil.

An underground wine cellar

A slim wine cellar with bottles from ceiling to ground

 

Find out more: masseto.com

 

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Reading time: 1 min
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG silver car pictured against blue sky
Mercedes-Benz silver estate car pictured from the front

The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG: Mercedes’ high-performance version of a family car

Our high-performance Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is transformed further by the simple expedients of an excellent annual service, and new high performance tyres from Michelin

One day, in the not too distant future, the idea of having your own metal encased room, with leather-covered chairs,which stands idle for the vast majority of the time, may seem as old-fashioned as owning a watch featuring a gyrating cage designed in the 18th century to try to counter affect the force of gravity.

Until then, I’m going to make the most of my Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG wagon. This car is the last in the line. A sleek, low, white, black estate car/station wagon, it is Mercedes’ own souped up version of its ubiquitous family transportation. In this particular case, it came with a 6.2 litre V8 engine, with more than 450 hp powering a relatively small car.

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These days, almost all powerful cars have efficient, turbocharged engines. My C 63, on the other hand, has a big, non-turbo charged V8 engine. To connoisseurs, this is like drinking an authentic Bordeaux first growth, rather than a New World imitator. Or listening to a Stradivarius violin. It’s not about the end result, it’s about how the result is produced. The car is only a couple of years old, but, car design cycles be being what they are, I remember speaking to the engineers at AMG, Mercedes racing division, almost two decades ago when they were talking about developing this particular engine. They were as excited as small children. In my car, it gains power with a gentle gurgle, which turns into a rumble and then a scream, and all the while the car pulls harder and harder. For a car nut, it’s an engine on a par with offerings from Ferrari. And it’s powering a car that can happily swallow a family and its sports and musical equipment, plus a family friend, and the imaginary Irish Wolfhound the family are lobbying to own.

A powerful turbocharged engine of today, on the other hand, simply punches along efficiently. Changes of tone and timbre and that mechanical sensation of being at a different stage in the power evolution are minimal. And electric cars make no sound at all.

The flipside over having a normal car is, as I have learned, that you need to treat this practical family wagon as if it is a thoroughbred. As cars do these days, it informed me around a month ago that it needed a service. It was duly booked in to Mercedes-Benz of Chelsea in London, where Dino, the service manager took care of both the car and me in a manner so professional and efficient, it almost wiped out all my previous memories of nightmarish customer service even from the most premium car brands.
Just like a racehorse owner would not stand (I would imagine) for dealing with somebody who has no idea what they’re talking about as an interlocutory for their racehorse care, the most frustrating element of looking after your cars is dealing with someone purportedly in a service department who wouldn’t know a V8 from a vegetable. If you know more about cars than your service advisor, I advise you to change dealerships.
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG silver car pictured against blue sky

Dino, on the other hand, talked me through any potential issues with the car with deep knowledge, and was delightful to deal with. The car passed with flying colours, and the real surprise was when it came home. I thought its slight grumpiness had been due to the cold winter weather, but in fact with an oil change and related items in the service, the thoroughbred engine was hugely, demonstrably smoother and more refined. Note to self: service the car next time before she even asks.

When you have such a powerful engine in a relatively light car, one challenge you may come across as with the tyres. After all, these are the only things responsible for transmitting the kinetic energy of the car onto the road and thus propelling it forward. On my car, I had the correct specification high-performance tyres, which had been on the wheels for nearly three years. Accelerating hard out of a junction or corner, sometimes the tyres would spin round without getting traction. In heavy rain, fast cornering sometimes made me wonder if the car was going to hang onto the road or not.

I put all this down simply to the slight imbalance. The car was just a bit too powerful for its own good, or so I thought. But on closer inspection, my tyres were halfway worn. Time to change them. Rather than simply change for more tired of the same make, I decided to do what few people end up doing, and change all four tyres to the latest and supposedly best versions for a completely different marque.

Read more: Why you should use Instagram as your diary

I had heard more than good things about the latest tire from Michelin, the Pilot Sport 4S. Enough users reported that it had transformed their supercar driving experience, that I thought I would take the plunge on all four tyres on the AMG. But how big a difference could really make? Would it really be worth it?

Product image of the Michelin PS4S tyres

Michelin PS4S tyres

As I drove the car out of the Kwik Fit depot in Chelsea wearing four new Michelin PS4S tyres, I muttered aloud to myself that the car had been transformed. First, and unexpectedly, the ride was smoother. Lumps, bumps and little potholes in the road were not transmitted to me faithfully, shopping trolley style, as they had been with the previous tyres.

This was unexpected because high-performance tyres are, by nature, hard. They are made to give little in cornering, so that they can transmit the forces generated by the car faithfully to the road.

So, would the flipside be softer, less racy handling? I didn’t want that. Astonishingly, though, handling was also transformed – in a positive direction. The car seem to have a bigger, broader, stickier footprint on the road. You could feel more, in a positive way,  exactly how the car was positioned for a corner. There was no more wheel spin on exiting small roads in the cold and wet; when it rained, the car felt like it was on rails, rather than threatening to skate off them. This is why these cars were so sensational when they were new, I remembered, and why car writers consider them modern classics.

Searching for an analogy, the best I could come up with after a couple of weeks was going on previously it felt like the car had been wearing a rather old pair of dress shoes with shiny leather soles. Now it was wearing top specification athletic running shoes with support everywhere and super gritty soles. The analogy also extended to the ride, with the cushioning that implies. The manufacturer’s blurb says this is due to “a hybrid belt of aramid and nylon ensuring the optimum transmission between steering instruction and the road” – which must be true.

The difference is so immense, that I have asked myself what I would have thought, had the car been taken away, and the tyres changed, without my knowledge. If I had been driving the car and forced to guess what exactly had been upgraded, I might of said it had a whole new suspension system.

I can’t think of any further praise that saying that I am now seriously considering fitting for the same tyres to one of my Ferraris, which had four new tyres from the marque previously worn by my AMG, just two years ago. Watch this space.

And as for people owning high-performance metal rooms years into the future: well, there’s still quite a market for archaic, gravity defying and fabulous tourbillon mechanical watches.

Find out more at michelin.com and mercedes-benz.co.uk

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Ballet dancers in performance with a male lead
Portrait of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild sitting in front of a stone mosaic

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild photographed at the Grand Mouton residence

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, head of the Mouton Rothschild family wine empire, recently inaugurated a new prize for the arts. Darius Sanai celebrates with him and his family members on the night of the awards, and speaks to him about patronage, the wine world and running one of the world’s most celebrated family businesses

Photographs by David Eustace

It’s a cool, clear evening in the vineyards of the Médoc, the triangular strip of land that stretches from Bordeaux to the Atlantic Ocean, along the estuary of the Gironde river, and which contains the world’s most celebrated wine estates. From the terrace of Château Clerc Milon, rows of perfectly groomed vines stretch out to the left and right; immediately below the terrace, a lawn drops down along a path lined by exotic bushes, to a steel-and-glass marquee. Beyond this temporary structure, which was erected the previous day and will be gone by morning, are more vineyards, undulating up towards Château Mouton Rothschild, over the brow of a small hill.

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Bordeaux vineyard close up shot of green vines

The Mouton Rothschild vignoble in Pauillac

As the sun goes down, guests sip Rothschild non-vintage Champagne or glasses of deep red Château Clerc Milon 2009, chatting about the show they have just seen. Suddenly, there is a musical introduction and all heads turn towards the stairs leading up from the lawn, from which 20 or so beautiful young people emerge, with a mixture of shyness and performance, and walk two by two through the crowds before dispersing into smaller groups and chatting to guests over glasses of Champagne.

The new arrivals were dancers from the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux; earlier, they had given the performance everyone had come for, in the marquee by the vineyard, in front of 100 seated guests. The show marked the second edition of the biannual Prix Clerc Milon de la Danse (Clerc Milon dance prize), awarded by the Philippine de Rothschild Foundation to two outstanding dancers from the Bordeaux ballet. The two winning dancers, Alice Leloup and Marc-Emmanuel Zanoli, had been awarded their prizes at the end of the show; now, after a brief interval, they and their colleagues were emerging, perfectly attired for the evening, to join the soirée. It was a magical moment during a spectacular evening.

Facade of a classical wine cellar with a huge arched wooden door

Wooden arched door to a wine cellar

The private wine cellar at
Château Mouton Rothschild

The prize is the brainchild of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Chairman and CEO of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, and his siblings, Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild and Camille Sereys de Rothschild. When their mother, the legendary Philippine de Rothschild, passed away in 2014, they inherited one of the most famous empires in wine. Their company, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owns Château Mouton Rothschild, one of the five ‘first growths’ of Bordeaux and among the most celebrated and expensive red wines in the world; Château Clerc Milon and Château d’Armailhac, also classed-growth Bordeaux châteaux; the Bordeaux brand Mouton Cadet, and much else.

Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, was famously fond of Brane-Mouton, as Mouton Rothschild was then known, and shipped some over to the nascent United States in the 1780s. But it was Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the grandfather of Sereys de Rothschild, who elevated the wine to worldwide fame, first modernising the estate in the 1920s and insisting on ensuring quality by bottling all wines at the Château, and then asking a different celebrated contemporary artist to create a new label for Mouton Rothschild every year. The labels read like a who’s who of 20th and 21st-century art: among them are Jean Cocteau (1947), Georges Braque (1955), Salvador Dalí (1958), Joan Miró (1969), Marc Chagall (1970), Wassily Kandinsky (1971), Andy Warhol (1975), Keith Haring (1988), Lucian Freud (2006) and Gerhard Richter (2015).

Portrait of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild with his daughter, Mathilde on their vineyard in Bordeaux

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild with his daughter, Mathilde

Grand garden with stone statue of a person leaning one hand on his head in front of a hedge

The gardens of the Rothschild estate

The Baron’s daughter, Philippine, strengthened the link with the arts – she herself had been a celebrated actress, and married one of France’s most famous actors, Jacques Sereys – while growing the business; and so, on this evening surrounded by vines under a sky washed by the nearby Atlantic, with stars emerging from the fading blue, it seems entirely appropriate that her children are both honouring their mother and supporting the arts with this new prize.

Read more: 6 reasons to buy a Hublot Classic Fusion Bucherer Blue Edition

Certainly, the winners seemed delighted: “I am amazed,” Alice told me, with a big, dimpled grin, her perfect, wavy hair and immaculate outfit belying the fact that she had been dancing on stage minutes previously. She was sipping at a glass of Champagne shyly, as if it were a rare treat to indulge. “It’s a great thing for them to do, although I never thought I would win. It just helps make all the hard work worthwhile.”

Ballet dancers in motion with one dancer stretching on the ground

Ballet dancers in performance with a male lead

Dancers from the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux perform at Château Clerc Milon

A statue of an elf sitting on top of a column in a smart stately gardenThe next morning, I meet Philippe Sereys de Rothschild in a drawing room at Grand Mouton, the family’s traditional residence, a few hundred metres away in the heart of Château Mouton Rothschild. The room is square and traditionally decorated; four chairs have been placed facing inwards towards each other. Between two of them is an occasional table, on top of which has been placed a tray containing still and sparkling water, small bottles of tonic water, and two halves of a lemon on a saucer. Sereys de Rothschild walks in, erect, greets us and offers us drinks, before settling down in a chair, squeezing one of the lemon halves into his glass of tonic water.

He was up, he says, until past 2am the previous night after the party ended, doing a debrief with his nephew Benjamin, who had helped organise everything. “Yes, last night Benjamin said, ‘We’ve got to do a debrief to know if it went well or not,’ and I said ‘OK, OK.’ So, we went through all the stuff that went well and didn’t go well, and it was the best time to do it because we had everything freshly in our minds. When people visit Château Clerc Milon they know it’s the family, they know it’s the Rothschilds. So, the standard is up there and you can’t disappoint them. Nothing is worse than disappointing people who have come to have a great evening and don’t have a great evening.”

All three of Philippine’s children were at the event; while Philippe oversees, Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, his younger half-brother, is responsible for the collaboration between art and wine at Mouton, and gave a casual and touching tribute speech on the terrace the previous evening, after the formal speeches in the marquee led by Philippe.

Ballet dancers in motion, performing against a backdrop in pastel clothing

It seemed to be quite a grand success for an event that is so young, I observe. “It is a young event and it actually happened much more quickly than I thought it would,” Philippe says. “The Foundation was created in 2015 and we did the first Clerc Milon prize in 2016. We wanted to start the foundation with something local. That was very important for us. Something local, something artistic and something linked to live performance. And all that was linked to my mother, because my mother was very close to the theatre, the Opéra de Bordeaux. Brigitte Lefèvre (president of the jury of the prize and a former administrator of the Opéra Garnier in Paris) really came in very quickly. I gave her a call one day; it was very interesting, she was outside on the street coming out of a documentary on ballet and I said, ‘I’ll call you back’ and she said ‘No, no, no, don’t call me back – what do you want?’

“I talked to her about the prize and everything and I said, ‘I’m looking for someone who could chair the jury.’ She said yes immediately, and it was in November 2015, so it was very, very quick. She was able to put the jury together quickly because after 20 years at the Opéra de Paris, she knows absolutely the whole planet in her world. So, the first prize was awarded in July 2016 and we were very happy.”

It was Lefèvre, he says, who had the idea of the prize specifically supporting young dancers and those who “cement the group together”. “And don’t forget,” he says, “the Foundation only has been going for three years. When we created it in memory of my mother, everyone knew she was very linked to the arts. As you know Mouton is also very linked to art: wine and art, art and wine. We knew we wanted a foundation carrying the name of my mother, and with an artistic purpose. That was very clear. So, we started there.”

Read more: Grand Luxury founders Ivan & Rouslan Lartisien on curating travel

A Harvard MBA, Sereys de Rothschild worked in the finance sector on graduating; in the late 1990s he was chief financial officer (CFO) of an Italian subsidiary of what is now the Vivendi conglomerate. He then ran a successful private-equity fund and created a high-tech investment fund. Was he always fated to take over the family company, I ask?

“No, not at all,” he says, very definitely. “I don’t feel that family businesses have to be run by families. Family business have to have family values, family principles, family ethics, family identities, yes. But that does not mean they have to be managed by the family, which is a completely different thing. We could have said, ‘Managers manage and the family is just there to define the values, principles, identity and culture.’ It was a choice, because it’s true that the family is very much linked to this company, and it was a choice that I made, to say that I was ready to spend much more time with the company, to make sure that we develop it the right way. There is a lot of development going on now, and I thought that the best way to ensure the development was done the right way was to implant myself more in the company. But it could have been different. I did many other things in my life before – some environmental projects, I managed a software company, I developed schools, I did a high-tech fund.

“But I’m not doing it alone, even if I’m managing this company with the objective of developing it, I’m doing it with the family. They are all on the board and we all decide together, and we all take decisions together and we all decide on the investments and whatever we want to do, together. I’m there to manage it and for the leadership, but they are there with me.”

Facade of Château Clerc Milon in Bordeaux

Architectural photograph of stairway leading up to a landing with a hanging light

Château Clerc Milon is a different kind of château with a modern vat house designed by architect Bernard Mazières

Is it different, I ask, managing a family business to running other businesses? “Well, although I’m completely conscious of the fact that it’s a family business, I really try to manage this business by asking myself, whenever I take a decision, is it good or bad for the company? Period. Because otherwise, you mix everything up. Don’t forget that we have 370 people working in this company, so what is important is to make sure that the company lives on and that I pass it on to the next generations. If I start thinking to myself I should do things differently because it’s a family business, then you make the wrong decisions. You have to make a decision, as a business decision, as a company decision.”

A bottle of Château Clerc Milon wine with two full wine glasses in the background

The Château Clerc Milon label features a pair of dancing clowns made of precious stones

Has his experience in the broader business and financial sector helped? “I think what has helped me is working with people with very different profiles. That’s been the most valuable thing. When you go from an environmental project to working with software engineers, working with more high-tech people, working with people in schools, you get used to going from one profile to another and to working with very, very diverse profiles. So, I can talk with people in the vineyards and I can talk with people on the market and I can talk to the people with the Ryder Cup [Mouton Cadet is the official wine of the Ryder Cup] or I can talk with the manager of the Festival de Cannes. They’re completely different types of people and the fact that I have had my own professional experience before has helped me to really make the difference between managing people with very different profiles. That’s probably one of the characteristics of the wine business, is that you really go from the vineyard up to the end of the line, who can be art collectors.”

A large wine cellar with rows of barrels and a crested back wall

The wine empire’s crest on the walls of the cellar

Over the past 20 years, wine has made a transition from being a drink enjoyed by those with the taste and means to acquire good bottles, to a trophy with, at the highest level, an ever-spiralling price. A case of Mouton Rothschild from a good vintage can cost as much as a new compact car, or a haute-horlogerie watch. Is Sereys de Rothschild in the luxury goods business, I wonder?

“No. I don’t really know which business I’m in,” he says. “In other words, in some ways we are in the luxury business, in some ways we are in the collecting business, in some ways we are in the limited series business, in some ways we are an agricultural product, in some ways we are in the tasting and drinking business. Where are we? I haven’t got the faintest clue. But that’s what makes it exciting and very difficult because we are not a luxury product, but we are in some ways a bit of a luxury product.”

Has China, which has been at the heart of the soaring demand for fine wines, affected the way the company does business?

“I would say it has affected it in the right way. What I like about the Chinese market is that it’s really a market of people who like wine, who drink wine, where wine has become part of their life. When they need to celebrate something they think about wine, which is very important, and it’s become a market of people who know wine well and who talk about wine in a very intelligent way. And don’t forget that Chinese people are very sensitive to education, and you cannot understand wine without having some sort of an education process. There is an initiation approach to wine and the Chinese people have understood that. And when you listen to Chinese people talking about wine, some are astonishingly knowledgeable. It’s real wine market in the long term, and a market of real, high-quality wine consumers.”

The wine world has evolved in recent decades. Mouton Rothschild and its fellow ‘first growths’ remain at the top of the ladder, but competitors have arrived from Napa, Italy and elsewhere, and the mid-market, where Mouton Cadet sits, has never been so crowded. What are the challenges facing the business?

“Staying at the top, which is sometimes more complicated than one thinks. The exposure that we have in the media has been multiplied [by the rise of digital media], which puts more pressure on us. It makes us more well-known, but at the same time if you make a mistake or if something goes wrong everyone will know it, so it exposes you much more. But at the same time, it’s very exciting because you’re much closer to the consumer. If they open the bottle and they don’t like it, you know. And 20 years ago, we could guess, but we didn’t know. So, you’re much more in contact with the end of the line, than we were before. Which actually makes things much more rewarding because you know what you’re there for. You know that you’re there to satisfy customers, much more than 20 years ago. So, it’s actually a very rewarding thing and the digital revolution is for me, very positive. The more I hear about the consumer and the more I know the consumer is happy, the happier I am.

Read more: Moynat unveils new collection of bags in London

“That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the market has become much more competitive, at all levels. In other words, it has become very competitive for Mouton Cadet because there are all the Italian wines, all the Australian wines, all the Chilean wines. So we have to fight for our space. But at the same time, it’s also true for cult wines and iconic wines. In other words, the first growths of 20 or 30 years ago were not quite alone, but the market was not too crowded. Today it’s getting more and more crowded. At the same time, it’s exciting because it’s a challenge and it puts pressure and you’re there to make things even better all the time.”

Château Mouton Rothschild has also been working to support the arts, in the form of the collections at Versailles, the legendary palace outside Paris. How do the two châteaux work in tandem, I wonder? “Mouton is linked to paintings, Clerc Milon is linked to dance. So that’s why we really have two very different things. Back at Mouton, because we’ve always been exposed to contemporary art, and it so happened that a certain number of artists that exhibited at Versailles – Anish Kapoor, Lee Ufan and Bernar Venet – also did the label for Mouton. We got in contact with Versailles and said, ‘Can we help you in any way with your contemporary art exhibitions?’ They were very enthusiastic and that’s what we decided to do. Without being immodest, Versailles is an institution, but so is Mouton in a way, although that’s not due to me, it’s been an institution since before I was born. Getting two institutions together that both represent in their own way the ‘art de vivre à la française’, I thought was… rather a great mix.”

There are sounds of activity coming from outside the room; Grand Mouton is gearing up for a celebratory meal with the jury. Sereys de Rothschild smiles as he shakes hands goodbye, and disappears through one of the doors for Sunday lunch with some leading lights in the arts, whom he is supporting. As I walk out along the perfectly raked gravel, and look at the immaculate lines of vine leaves alongside me, I reflect that the faces of the young dancers, the jury members and the patrons may be different, but everything they are doing is comfortably, commendably, consistent through the centuries.

Portrait of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, head of the Rothschild wine estates

Philippe Sereys de Rothschild on his favourite vintage of Mouton Rothschild:

“It’s difficult! I could mention the greatest vintages: 1945, 1959, 1961. The trouble is, I drank bottles of 1961 when I was much younger – 18 to 20. I drank a bottle of 1961 for my sister’s wedding, and another on her 10th wedding anniversary. Some guests came from England and one person was born in 1961 so we opened a bottle. Each time was different, so how can I say which was the best 1961? The magic about these wines is that they are never the same. They are always fascinating, they are always fabulous. So, if you ask me whether I prefer the 1945 or the 1961, I’d give you one answer today, and a different answer in five years.”

Discover Château Mouton Rothschild: chateau-mouton-rothschild.com

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2018 issue. Click here to read more content: The Beauty Issue

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Reading time: 17 min
Aerial shot of Château de Versailles, France
Château Mouton Rothschild vintage wines with labels designed by contemporary artists

Five Château Mouton Rothschild vintages will be included in the “Versailles Celebration Cases”

Throughout Spring 2019, Sotheby’s will auction 75-limited edition cases from Château Mouton Rothschild to help fund restoration projects at the Palace of Versailles

Château Mouton Rothschild celebration wine case containing five bottlesRenowned French wine producer Château Mouton Rothschild  is auctioning 75 collector’s cases each featuring five vintages with labels designed by contemporary artists who have also exhibited at the Palace of Versailles, including Giuseppe Penone, Bernar Venet, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons and Lee Ufan. Aptly titled the “Versailles Celebration Cases”, funds raised will go towards supporting the ongoing restoration projects at the Palace.

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Aerial shot of Château de Versailles, France

Château de Versailles. Photo by Thomas Garnier, Courtesy Château de Versailles

The auction will begin in Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 1 April, followed by London on 17 April and concluding in New York on 4 May. Successful bidders will also win an invitation to a private tasting at Château Mouton Rothschild, as well as two tickets to the Versailles Celebration Gala Dinner at the Palace of Versailles in September where ex-cellar vintages of Château Mouton Rothschild will be served.

Discover Château Mouton Rothschild’s full list of collaborating artists and labels: https://www.chateau-mouton-rothschild.com/label-art/discover-the-artwork

 

 

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Reading time: 1 min
Man testing wine from a line of oak barrels
Man testing wine from a line of oak barrels

Tuscan winery owner Giovanni Dolfi, who acted as a mentor to 2016 Gaggenau Sommelier Award winner Marc Almert

The art of the Master Sommelier is steeped in tradition, but with the rise of ever-more sophisticated technology, Rebecca Gibb reports on the evolution of the role for the modern age
Portrait of Hong Kong's finest sommelier Yvonne Cheung

Hong Kong-based
sommelier Yvonne
Cheung

It was 7.30pm and the sun had descended into the western horizon, leaving another sultry evening in Hong Kong. The cacophony of car horns resounding from the tomato-coloured taxis inching their way along Queensway became a murmur, as diners ascended the 49 floors to the calm of luxury hotel The Upper House. In its restaurant, sommelier Yvonne Cheung was guiding a bottle of 1989 Cheval Blanc from its rack, as if it were a newborn. Sealed almost three decades ago when Hong Kong was still a British colony, its russet liquid was about to be released from its glass cocoon. But with no candle to hand, she gave the traditional process of decanting a modern twist, pulling out her iPhone, scrolling up and clicking the flashlight button, transferring the bottle’s precious contents with the assistance of Apple. Some 8,000 miles away, Patrick Cappiello’s lavishly tattooed arms were on full display as he sabred another bottle of prestige Champagne in a New York wine bar. Once a suit-and-tie-wearing sommelier, Cappiello encapsulates everything that has changed in the world of wine service, ditching the formal business attire, and adding a sense of fun.

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Cheung and Cappiello are key members of the sommelier revolution. The meeting of tradition and modernity in wine service has tracked fine-dining trends: in recent years hushed dining rooms, starched tablecloths and haughty waiters have been ditched in favour of less formality. This casualisation of dining has occurred at the highest level, which has also altered the appearance of sommeliers: the man or woman dishing out wine advice is just as likely to be wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of their favourite death-metal band as a shirt and tie. Texas-based Master Sommelier James Tidwell recalls: “Everybody used to be in suits. When I started the Court of Master Sommeliers courses, I saw people turning up in tuxedos because that was the standard of the time! Now you see sommeliers serving in jeans and T-shirts. Casualisation of dining has casualised sommeliers, but their role is still: how do you get the wine to the guest in the best possible condition? That might be baskets and candles, but it might be decanting it with your iPhone flashlight.”

The world of the modern sommelier flowed into suburban living rooms in 2012 with the release of Somm, a documentary following a group of sommeliers in pursuit of the prestigious – and often elusive – Master Sommelier (MS) qualification. Variously described as ‘rock stars of the industry’ and ‘sickly gifted’ the film raised the profiles not only of those ‘egomaniacs’ attempting to pass one of the most difficult exams in the world, but of the entire profession. Almost overnight, it became cool to be a sommelier and audiences realised it was worth listening to the guy offering wine advice (it usually is a guy – of the 249 Master Sommeliers in the world, only 25 are women).

The 21st-century sommelier

While technology has helped candle-less sommeliers decant mature bottles, it has also empowered diners. The rise of wine apps means people can now compare the average retail price of the bottle with the list price through Wine-Searcher, they can view drinker ratings on Vivino and, in 2016, a free app named Corkscrew, a ‘sommelier in your pocket’ teamed up with London restaurants, providing food and wine pairing suggestions based on the venue’s menu and wine list. Marc Almert, sommelier at five-star Zürich hotel Baur au Lac doesn’t think apps will replace sommeliers, but they may change their role. These apps, “Help the guest to be more self-assured when ordering wine,” he says. “Thus we become less of a wine consultant and more of a conversation partner. It allows us to exchange with the guests more openly.” Almert’s view of this evolution is echoed by sommeliers on both sides of the Atlantic and the Far East, but with the development of other technologies that replace the need for humans, including driverless cars, the sommelier-less wine list seems to be the logical conclusion.

Read more: Exploring the rugged beauty of Tajikistan along the Pamir Highway 

That said, a survey of 250 sommeliers across the US in 2000 found that when there was a sommelier in the dining room, more than a third of diners asked for wine recommendations, more parties ordered wine and the average bill was higher. It is apparent that some diners avoid buying wine because of the perceived risk – what if they buy something they don’t like or that won’t please their fellow diners? A sommelier can help to alleviate that fear, leading to increased sales. A more recent study of 50 restaurants in the Spanish city of Valencia also found that a knowledgeable sommelier with a well-curated wine list enhanced the customer’s satisfaction, raised the venue’s prestige and increased profitability.

Portrait of a Sven Schnee, global head of brand for Gaggenau

Gaggenau’s head of global brand, Sven Schnee

And there is an increasing number of knowledgeable sommeliers. Since 2012 – the year Somm was released – more than 50 people have passed the MS exam, swelling its ranks by almost a third. What’s more, hundreds participate in fiercely fought sommelier competitions each year in the hope of being crowned the best sommelier in the country – and the world. These competitions aim to test the knowledge and ability of sommeliers, take them out of their comfort zone, and make them better hosts whether they win or lose. Before lunch service begins, you’re likely to find the most competitive sommeliers poring over wine maps, studying obscure appellations or trying to identify the origin and variety of wines from taste alone. The final of the biennial Gaggenau Sommelier Awards 2018 takes place in Beijing in October, bringing regional winners from North and South America, Europe and Asia. Sven Schnee, Gaggenau’s head of global brand, is also a judge. “Sommeliers are part of the culinary culture and, unlike chefs, they are heavily under-appreciated,” he says. “The sommelier has the most interaction with the customers. He must understand the components of the food, the wine and the interaction between them, but most of all, must be the perfect host.”

The UK leg of the competition was fiercely fought and judges Richard Billett, head of Maison Marques et Domaines, the UK arm of Champagne Louis Roederer, Craig Bancroft of boutique hotel and Michelin star restaurant Northcote and LUX Editor-In-Chief Darius Sanai were looking for personability as well as wine ability. “It goes without saying that a good sommelier needs to be highly knowledgeable, but knowledge is a precious quality that needs to be handled in a very careful and respectful way,” says Bancroft. “Many customers do not fully understand the role of a sommelier and sommeliers must understand that their role is to provide the customer with the best possible wine experience that suits the occasion and the price range in which the customer is comfortable.” Billett also emphasises the importance of people skills: “A good sommelier who recognises the importance of his role in the customer experience will prove to be a commercial and reputational asset for the restaurant. An arrogant and unhelpful one, a liability.”

Line-up of three finalists at the Gaggenau UK sommelier competition 2018

Zareh Mesrobyan, winner of the first Gaggenau UK Sommelier Awards (centre) with fellow finalists Tamas Czinki (left) and Luca Luciani (right)

Clearly, Almert offered the full package in 2016, becoming the global winner of the Awards. Still in his twenties, he is full of energy for his profession but long – and unsociable – hours, the increasing pressures of the job, and a desire to see what else they can do beyond the dining room means that you’ll find many experienced sommeliers now working outside the restaurant business in distribution, retail and education. For example, Tidwell spent two decades on the floor but now runs an annual conference for US sommeliers, Texsom. “As you get older, being on the floor of a restaurant early in the morning and hours that are not conducive to having families or friends outside of the business is less appealing,” he says. “Plus, the wear and tear on the body will eventually add up.”

Read more: Test driving the Maserati GranTurismo MC 

However, once a sommelier, always a sommelier. Fellow MS Gearoid Devaney is the director of London-based Burgundy wine importer, Flint Wines, and runs City wine bar and restaurant Cabotte. He believes that even if you are no longer on the floor, you are a sommelier for life. “I work as a wine merchant with a sommelier outlook in terms of the service I provide and delivering wine to people. I will always work with a sommelier’s brain. It’s about being the link between the producer and the end consumer and doing that with integrity.”

Whether they are on the floor for a year, a decade or a lifetime, sommeliers are dedicated to being personable and ever more professional in the face of technological advances. Wine is the reason for a sommelier’s existence but distilled to its essence, it is about caring for people. And Bancroft predicts a bright future. “There will always be a place for a sommelier,” he says. “The human touch, the real understanding of what someone is looking for, and for a sommelier to be able to deliver that to a client, truly enhances the dining experience.”

The first Gaggenau UK Sommelier Awards

Zareh Mesrobyan, from two-Michelin-star restaurant Andrew Fairlie in Gleneagles, Scotland, has been crowned the winner of the first-ever Gaggenau UK Sommelier Awards. He will represent the UK in the global competition in Beijing in October. Mesrobyan competed against Luca Luciani from Locanda Locatelli and Tamas Czinki from Northcote in five rounds including blind tasting, food and wine pairing and service role plays. Judge Craig Bancroft said Mesrobyan has a “superb chance of success on the worldwide stage”.

For updates on the Gaggenau Sommelier Award 2018 visit: gaggenau.com

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Reading time: 8 min
A bottle of Philipponnat champagne surrounded by roses
A bottle of Philipponnat champagne surrounded by roses

The latest release from renowned champagne house Philipponnat: Clos des Goisses 2009

Festive drinks parties might not have started just yet, but it’s never too early to stock the cellar, or drink champagne. Julian Campbell, Champagne Buyer at leading London wine merchant Justerini & Brooks recommends five champagnes for LUX readers

Philipponnat Cuvee 1522 2008 champagne bottle ictured on white background1. Philipponnat Cuvée 1522, 2008

Precise, aromatic notes of salt and red berries, brioche, toast and peach combine to produce an arresting initial impression in Philipponnat’s brilliant 1522 2008. A wine with a beautiful seam of fresh acidity that will allow this to age for many years to come. 8 years sur lie has given fabulous complexity with a savoury, very fine note of freshly baked pastries below the fruit, while also giving the mousse a wonderful finesse and sense of integration. The finish is long and deliciously salty. Only 1200 cases of this brilliant wine were produced.

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2. Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil 2006

All the minerality of Grand Cru Mesnil vineyards combined with Pascal’s vinous, long lees aged style – a real stand out in Pascal’s lovely range of Blanc de Blancs. The product of a supple, solaire vintage that has imbued this with lovely fruit to balance out the deep chalky notes, this is drinking beautifully now but will improve over the coming decade.

Bottle of Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2009 champagne3. Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2009

The latest release from renowned champagne house Philipponnat.  Opening up with a wave of wonderfully fresh cool chalk aromas, then a bold, expressive nose of grapefruit and fresh red berry, citrus and buttered hazelnuts and finally the faintest suggestions of fresh Victoria plum – there’s a great deal going on here, a wonderful marriage between complex richness and keenly rendered flavours. On the palate this is a big and powerful Goisses but also refined, brimming with rich red fruit, pastry, brioche, raspberry and finally the zest of lemons providing a keen, taut edge. Highly vinous, textural, long and complex, this is every bit as regal as we’d hoped. Superb, a true Clos de Goisses.

Read more: 5 travel experiences that will change your life

Egly Ouriet Les Crayerers champagne bottle and box4. Egly Ouriet Les Crayeres, Ambonnay, Grand Cru, Blanc de Noirs, Brut NV

There’s an element of generous sunshine in this tremendously vinous bottle of champagne, but also a mouth-watering stony element, clear cut golden peach and raspberry, and fantastic chalk definition and minerality on the finish. Long, pure and textural – truly a wine masquerading as Champagne. Made by grapes from an exceptional Ambonnay vineyard with 70 year old vines on intensely chalky soil (at times up to 100m deep).

5. Ulysse Collin, Les Maillons, Blanc de Noirs, Extra Brut, 2013 base

Harvest tends to start here, one week ahead of the other vineyards, and the resulting champagne presents the most glorious red fruit and spice characteristics, huge amounts of pinot appeal, the finest of mousses, with a flourish of red currant, raspberry and ginger spiced pinot fruit on the finish. Aromatic and extrovert while remaining exceptional precision and detail.

For more recommendations and to purchase online visit justerinis.com

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Reading time: 2 min
Sommelier pouring wine in modern style kitchen
Sommelier pouring wine in modern style kitchen

Gaggenau 2018 UK Sommelier competition winner Zareh Mesrobyan is a sommelier at the two Michelin-starred Andrew Fairlie restaurant at Gleneagles in Scotland

Last week Gaggenau’s 2018 UK Sommelier competition took place in London to decide which young sommelier would go on to represent the UK in the global challenge later this year. As a member of the judging panel, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai recalls the event

There was a welcome relief from the soaring heat in central London last week when I spent half a day at Gaggenau’s home-like showroom near Mayfair (replete with icy air-con) judging their 2018 UK Sommelier competition. The winner would go on to China in October to represent the UK in Gaggenau’s global sommelier challenge, a significant accolade in the Somms world.

Detail shot of hand holding glass of red wine tilted at an angle

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Sommeliers are at once underestimated and overrated. In some (perhaps old fashioned) establishments, the sight of a patronising and overdressed gentleman approaching the table to tell me what to drink is enough to make me switch to ginger beer. But in most restaurants these days, sommeliers are younger, enthusiastic, and too often overlooked by customers who either don’t care what they drink or just plug wine list entries into an app – which doesn’t give the same results at all.

line of wine glasses with three men in suits sitting behind considering documents

The judging panel from left to right: Craig J Bancroft MI, Managing Director at Northcote, LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai and Richard Billett, Managing Director of Maisons Marques et Domaines UK

So kudos to Gaggenau for celebrating the sommelier, and it was a fascinating event and a close call between the eventual winner and runner-up. In the end, Zareh Mesrobyan‘s clear, fast and superior knowledge in the rapid-fire quiz (sample question: What is cremant?) distinguished him. Zareh Mesrobyan works at the rarefied two-Michelin star Andrew Fairlie restaurant at Gleneagles in Scotland, and good luck to him in China later this year. I’d be delighted to listen to the recommendations of this smart, well-presented and intelligent young man next time I go to Gleneagles.

Discover Gaggenau at gaggenau.com

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luxury chalet collection Les Rives d’Argentière, Chamonix in winter

Les Rives d’Argentière, a hamlet of five-star chalets in the village of Argentière, Chamonix

For centuries, Chamonix has been the prime alpine resort for those seeking adventure luxury travel with a heady mix of challenging skiing, glaciers, designer boutiques and five-star hotels. Digital Editor Millie Walton travels to the lesser known village of Argentière, a twenty minute drive from the main town and home to the valley’s most luxurious collection of chalets, to discover where adventure and luxury meet

That feeling you get when you wake up early on the first day of skiing is, for me at least, the nearest I ever get to the giddy excitement I felt as a child on Christmas morning. It’s a restless, wide-eyed kind of anticipation and on the way to Flégère, one of Chamonix’s most scenic and slightly easier ski areas (although no skiing in Chamonix is exactly easy), the excitement is almost palpable. We’re silent as the driver opens the door and hands us our skis, poles and passes. We’ve been warned that the visibility is bad, which is hard to believe in the valley where it’s sunny and relatively clear, but the warning makes us even more edgy and impatient to begin.

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At the top of the cable car, we’re met with gale force winds that pull us from side to side in a drunken swagger, making the experience of waking in ski boots feel even stranger and more space like. Most of the pistes are closed, the wind howling in our ears, stinging our faces, biting into bare skin. My ski partner looks at me and points warily at a red avalanche sign with one pole, a gesture that’s perfectly timed with the boom of the canon and the thundering rumble of snow. And yet, there’s something especially exhilarating about skiing in extreme conditions, when there’s a sense that you’re on the fringes of real, raw adventure. We push off down the run, carving through thick powder, gathering speed and arrive at the lift, panting, laughing. It’s worth everything for that (and a timely break for vin chaud).

Skiiers descending the famous off-piste route, Vallée Blanche in Chamonix

World famous off-piste skiing: Vallée Blanche, Chamonix

Sadly, the mountain is closed after a couple of hours – the weather’s too extreme – and whilst it’s not quite long enough, it’s something, and we return to Les Rives d’Argentière with our cheeks still flushed, snow dripping from our hair. The pretty hamlet of luxury chalets sits snugly in the little village of Argentière, facing south towards Mont Blanc. We’re in the biggest of the four, Chalet Terre which has a capacity of 14, but is by far the cosiest with rustic, tribal inspired furnishings, a log fire, a sleek open plan kitchen (re-stocked daily with drinks and snacks), five en-suite bedrooms, a games room in the basement and a hot tub, sunken into the snow on the terrace.

Read more: Geoffrey Kent on the rise of adventure luxury travel

The chalets also share an underground walkway with a sauna, hammam, fitness suite, massage rooms and cinema, and it means that if you happen to be renting the whole hamlet, you don’t have to trudge through the snow to pay the rest of the group a visit. That afternoon we’re booked in for treatments with Chamonix’s star masseuse Ruth Martin, who uses her fascination with the inter-relationship between psychology and physiology to create a truly bespoke experience that’s as relaxing as it is deeply therapeutic.

Chamonix railway alongside the Mer de Glace glacier

The Montenvers Railway winds up the mountain alongside the Mer de Glace to a viewing point at 1913 m

Most people who choose Chamonix over resorts such as St. Moritz or Zermatt, choose it for the extreme sports (the first Winter Olympics were hosted by Chamonix in 1924); the notorious off-piste skiing route Vallée Blanche, the Mer de Glace, Aiguille du Midi (a 3,777m terrace with panoramic views of the surrounding alps), and ‘A Step into the Void’, a glass cage that hangs over 1000m precipice. It’s a ski resort that’s primarily about the sport and not the après, and because of that it tends to attract a slightly more adventurous clientele, who are by no means less deep pocketed – wander through Chamonix town and almost all of the shops are designer or artisan and there’s a multitude of smart restaurants.

Les Rives d’Argentière chalet interiors, open plan dining and kitchen area

The warm, blonde wood interiors of one of Les Rives d’Argentière’s chalets

One evening, we’re treated to a wine tasting menu in the chalet with an excellent and varied wine selection by Le Verre Gourmand, who are renowned suppliers of the top chalets in the alps. The food is not quite as refined as one would expect, and disappointingly doesn’t take advantage of the Alpine ingredients and traditional recipes, which are done so well and with so much elegance in the bistro style restaurants in town, but the service is warm and thoughtful.

Secluded in its own little world of luxury, Les Rives d’Argentière has all the advantages of a five-star resort, with the added allure of privacy and bespoke service that makes a day of adventures slightly less daunting.

lesrivesdargentiere.com

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Château Mouton Rothschild vineyard in autumn with golden leaves

Château Mouton-Rothschild vineyards in autumn Image: Mathieu Anglada Saison d’Or

We all know that collectors of fine art are liable to collectors of great wine: how better to appreciate a Joan Miró painting or Takashi Murakami installation than over a glass of one of the world’s finest wines?
German artist Gerhard Richter creates artwork for Château Mouton Rothschild

Gerhard Richter. Image: Studio Gerhard Richter, 2017

Château Mouton Rothschild, one of the great estates of Bordeaux, takes the connection further, commissioning a different leading world artist to design its label for its top wine every year. To collect bottles of Mouton from the past sixty years is to be immersed in original creations from the likes of Miró, Pablo Picasso, Jeff Koons, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Keith Haring, Wassily Kandinsky – the list is a who’s who of the world’s great artists.

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So it’s no surprise that the latest, 2015, vintage has been announced to be sporting a label by the great German expressionist Gerhard Richter – indeed, one could wonder what took the collaboration so long. Richter’s other-worldly ability to reinvent himself, to pioneer new genres, and to blend elements of the social commentary so prevalent in contemporary creative culture with the purism of fine art, makes him the most collectible living artist. His works sell for tens of millions – a development which he apparently scorns.

Gerhard Richter's artistic label for Château Mouton Rothschild

Gerhard Richter’s label for the 2015 vintage

The work he created for his label, Flux, is stunning, alive, compelling, angry and colourful. The technique he uses involves spreading enamel paint on a plate of plexiglass on which he then presses and moves another glass plate to generate a swirling composition of colours. Richter then photographs the still fluctuating colours when he considers their composition to be momentarily harmonious.

It is appropriate that Richter, who turns 86 next year and who spends his summers at the other-worldly Waldhaus Sils in Switzerland’s high mountains, has been paired with 2015, one of the greatest vintages of recent times. Like the 2015 ‘grand vin’, he is an artist whose works will stand the test of decades – and even centuries.

chateau-mouton-rothschild.com/label-art

 

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Italian mansion Villa Giuseppina

By Darius Sanai, Editor-in-Chief

As a collector of, and investor in, wines, I like to serve interesting and unusual wines to my guests, as well as the classics. This can be a two-edged sword, however. Traditions burn powerfully, rooted as they are in brand and desired perception as much as they are in quality.

If a head of state or CEO wants to impress her guests, she (or her cellarmasters) are likely to choose a famous Bordeaux or Burgundy, as they would have 100 and even 200 years ago. (Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, amassed a fabulous collection of Bordeaux while living in France, including Chateau Latour, Lafite, and Haut-Brion, and had it all shipped to Virginia when he moved back.)

I tend to do the same to guests whose tastes are either traditional, or unknown to me. If I serve an important client I don’t know bottles of Hundred Acre Kayli, Sloan Estate, or Dalla Valle Maya over dinner, he is far less likely to be impressed a priori than if I serve him Lafite or Latour. A client with only a passing interest in wine may feel insulted that I am trying to trim costs, when in fact those three Napa Valley wines cost the same, and in some vintages, more, than the Bordeaux classics – and get the same, or better, scores from influential critics. The same applies to wines like Penfolds’ Grange – Penfolds is a supermarket brand, but Grange is most definitely not a supermarket wine – and Guigal’s Cote Rotie La Turque, La Landonne and La Mouline, known collectively as the “La Las”, commanding vast prices, but likely to be dismissed by non-geeks as “a Guigal” or “a Cote Rotie”.

So for a recent LUX dinner, thrown by LUX Editor-at-Large Gauhar Kapparova at Villa Giuseppina, her fabulous mansion on Lake Como, I decided to mix it. The guests, from Milan’s fashion and jewellery world, would be given a tasting that effectively pitted Napa Valley’s new aristocracy (or new money) against the world.

Italian mansion Villa Giuseppina

Villa Giuseppina on Lake Como, Italy

The average retail bottle price was in the hundreds of dollars (all would have cost in the thousands if purchased in a restaurant), and more than half the wines scored a perfect 100/100 from Robert Parker, the uber-critic. There was even a luxury sub-theme, as we pitted Chateau Latour, a Bordeaux First Growth, against Araujo Eisele, a Napa estate which has also been purchased by Chateau Latour owner and luxury magnate Francois Pinault. (I can already hear the voice of Frederic Engerer, esteemed President of Chateau Latour and all of Pinault’s wine holdings, pointing out that the Latour was a 1996, which predated his refresh of the winemaking there, and the Araujo was a 2009, which predates Pinault’s purchase of the estate: duly noted). But some of the wines were world-famous brands, and others were tiny-production bottles completely unknown to anyone but the deepest connoisseurs.

Among the guests were connoisseurs, collectors and mere drinkers and enjoyers of wine. The latter, for me, provide an excellent litmus test and counterpoint to the professionals, most of whom cannot afford to buy and enjoy these wines nowadays. Indeed, most successful businesspeople in the 40s or 50s with just a passing interest in wine have a far better knowledge of top wines than many Masters of Wine I have come across.

Fine wines

A selection of wines served at the LUX dinner in Italy

We didn’t make tasting notes or score the wines; at the end of the dinner I just asked each guest to reveal their favourite. The wines were not tasted blind, because I was too busy enjoying them and the guests’ company to wrap up the bottles!

The result was that there is no result: tastes in wine are as diverse as the people tasting them. The 1996 Chateau Latour took some plaudits, though I don’t know how much of that was led by brand. It was certainly very correct but lacking the flair I like to think Frederic has added. Penfolds’ Grange 2002 was also very popular, as was the Chambertin Grand Cru, Nicolas Potel, 2005, and, from the US, the Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and the Dalla Valle Maya 2009. It’s always telling to see which bottles get finished first: I ended up drinking the Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque 1991 almost exclusively, wrapping myself in its velvet sheets.

Fine wines chosen by LUX editor Darius SanaiThere is a conclusion to draw, though, and it is that we should all be less conservative in what we serve. Buy some fabulous, lesser-known wines, take a few minutes to learn their story, and tell it to your guests yourself while your sommelier serves them. If nothing else it can brighten up a lull in conversation, and show an extra element to your character. Accompany these with the classics, by all means – the comparison is fascinating, and it will prove you’re not a skinflint – but do branch out. Stores like Hedonism Wines in London can help you. That where I helped Gauhar and her late husband Nurlan buy a good part of their fabulous cellar.

And if I serve you a wine you have never heard of next time you come to dinner, do take it personally. It means I think you’re smart and adventurous enough to appreciate it.

Editor’s note: All the wines in this tasting were purchased outright

The Villa Giuseppina Winter Tasting: The List:

The World:

Chambertin Grand Cru, Nicolas Potel, 2005

Falletto di Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco, 2005

Cote Rotie “La Turque”, E. Guigal, 1991

Penfolds Grange, Shiraz, 2002

Chateau Leoville Poyferre 2003

Chateau Latour 1996

Napa:

Araujo Eisele Vineyard 2009

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain, 2009

Tor Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009

Hundred Acre Kayli Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Dalla Valle Maya 2009

PS Can you guess the most expensive wine on this exclusive list? It’s one of the ones you’re less likely to have heard of: the La Turque, retailing at more than $12,000 a case.

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