Pull the cork: Darien oenophile shares decades of knowledge in new book
Some people may have seen a dank, dark room with cobwebs, but Richard Chilton Jr. saw it as a ticket for the journey of a lifetime
It was 1976 and he and his brother, Chip, had convinced their father to convert an old bomb shelter at the family’s Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., home into a wine cellar. Given Chip’s part-time employment at a local wine shop, the two young men were soon on their way to collecting and tasting. Even then, Chilton realized this was going to be a longterm proposition and he better start taking notes.
“I’ve always been a curious guy an d that curious guy came through,” he says, 40 years later, and several months after the release of his book, “Adventures with Old Vines: A Beginner’s Guide to Be ing a Wine Connoisseur.”
In the ensuing years, he became founder and chief executive officer of Chilton Investment Company, with headquarters in New York City and Stamford, and moved to Darien. He traveled the world in search of great vineyards and beautiful places. He built his own wine cellar. And, in 2006, he co-founded Hourglass Wine Company in Napa Valley with partners Jeff Smith and Michael Clark.
This book is the next step on his journey — imparting the knowledge he gained to the next generation of connoisseurs. He is particular about connoisseurship versus collection. “The most expensive wine in your cellar is the one that goes bad,” he says. “It’s to be enjoyed and not be collected as a trophy.”
He suggests buying a case or multiple bottles of a vintage and planning tastings at intervals, say every five to 10 years, to see how the wine changes and evolves. He says pull the cork, savor the flavor and record the experience, so that it is easier to compare wines of various regions, varietals and countries. As to aging a wine, he says there is no one standard. Generally, the more tannic the wine, the longer it takes to mature, while softer grape varietals tend to need less time. White wines are harder to assess, but they need a colder environment, about 52 degrees, and proper storage.
It is tips such as these, and a comprehensive list of great vintages and vineyard profiles, that will help oenophiles get started.
Q: You could have kept your knowledge to yourself. So, why did you decide to make a comprehensive guide?
A: I poured through a countless amount of books on the subject of wine, and encyclopedias … and they were helpful, with lots of information, but they sometimes got into the gobbledy-gook. I wanted to write a book for the beginner, particularly since there are so many millennials out there and others who want to get into wine. It is really about how to get started and how to enjoy it once you get started …. It’s my attempt to demystify wine in all forms. It is formatted around the journey of wine … you start with the introduction and then how to get started, how to buy wine, store wine, taste wine and appreciate it.
Q: You mention the best way to appreciate wine is to taste it.
A: How do you know what a great pinot noir tastes like from a Burgundy if you do not try it? You can’t go through this journey and not have tasted some of the Left Bank or Right Bank Bordeaux. You have to taste them. These are benchmark wines that you have to try to form a frame of reference. You may not be able to afford wines from the Left Bank that I have in the book, the Lafite and Mouton from Pauillac … but you could taste the fifth growth from Chateau Lynch-Bages and not be that far off. You would think, guess what, I can afford that.”
Q: Say you buy a case. You suggest opening one bottle at a time, over the decades, to get an idea of how it evolves and changes. Are you saving some?
A: I am still drinking my 1985, 1988, 1989 Burgundies and in some cases, I have three or four bottles left of them and they are really good.
Q: Where has this pursuit taken you?
A: We’ve gone to all the big European cities and to dusty old wine shops in the Left Bank in Paris and found great old bottles. We’ve gone to Bordeaux and Champagne and Burgundy and visited with vineyard owners and tasted them. There is actually a book two … a beginners guide to Burgundy. Most people love Burgundy and Pinot Noir, but they have no idea, because it is so complex.
Q: An aspiring wine connoisseur may not be able to buy some of the benchmark wines …
A: You can buy with friends. All you need is half a glass. If 10 people put in 20 bucks, you can try it and memorialize it. Oenophiles love opening a bottle and sharing it with other oenophiles.
Q: How do you hope people use this book?
A: As a beginning primer for a lifetime of wine appreciation and connoisseurship. I hope it spurs their thoughts and gets them more interested in wine. It is a journey and they can start it. I hope the book helps them gain proficiency along the way.
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