WINE & SPIRITS
TREASURES ABOUND IN THE RELAIS & CHATEAUX PROPERTY IN THE BERKSHIRES
The first indication that I had entered a true wine destination was the half- bottle of Krug I found waiting on ice in my room. The pricey gift is the welcome all guests receive when they check into Blantyre, a Relais & Chateaux property in the Berkshires that just happens to have one of the greatest wine cellars on the Eastern Seaboard. The house of Krug recently released the most expensive single-vineyard Blanc de Noirs vintage, the 1995 Clos d'Ambonnay. Blantyre scored a couple of bottles of this very limited release ($7,000 on the restaurant's wine list).
A visit to Blantyre's wine cellar is an eye-opening experience, with rows of rare bottles—'45 Mouton, '45 Lafite, '61 Latour, La Tache in Jeroboam. Treasures include verticals of Chateau Le Pin and Screaming Eagle, a whole collection of other California cults (Hundred Acre, Sine Qua Non, Bond) and large-format stunners such as an imperial of 1989 Chateau Petrus ($48,000 here).
Wine director Christelle Cotar and head sommelier Luc Chevalier worked together to build this Bacchanal fantasy. Beginning with a mere 4,000 bottles in 2004, the collection has since grown to some 20,000 bottles (of 2,400 separate labels). Of course, they couldn't have done it without the deep-pocket largesse of Blantyre's oenophile owner, Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, who instructed them to go out and spend what it takes to land the most important bottles available.
"It's a cellar with a lot of hidden gems, old vintages and hard-to-find wines, many from small producers—and many quite well priced," Cotar told me. The Alsace-born wine director says she has nearly as sentimental an attachment to the wines as she does for her 14-month-old twins. "I couldn't possibly pick a favorite bottle," she said. "They are all like my children." She pointed out a few new-world wines available for under $40. She is also proud of her 150 half-bottles. "Half bottles give you more flexibility," she said. "A couple can take Sancerre with the scallops, Cabernet with the beef and Sauternes with dessert."
Blantyre hosts wine tastings for hotel guests every Saturday evening, opening important bottles to see how they're aging. It also hosts bi-annual wine feasts, bringing in major producers to present their wines at the meals. "When the Marchesi de Frescobaldi was here, he noted that his grandson will be the 31st generation of the family," Fitzpatrick Brown said. Blantyre has played host to many distinguished winemakers, including the men and women behind Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia and Chateau Mouton Rothschild (they opened the 1945 vintage, listed here at $12,000).
Fitzpatrick Brown loves to talk about the wines opened at Blantyre. Recently, she said, a couple claimed the wine weekend they had bid on at the Naples Wine Auction. "They could have chosen the '45 Mouton Rothschild," she said. "They were considerate, taking the 1961 Latour instead. The cork came out in little pieces—we feared it was not good. We decanted the wine through a coffee filter. The guests said it was the best wine they had ever tasted!"
On my weekend at Blantyre, the hotel was hosting a dinner for two top white Burgundy producers, a candlelit affair for 24 guests featuring the wines of Domaine Leflaive and Domaine Pierre Morey. The table was covered in crystal glasses and flowers chosen by Fitzpatrick Brown for their lack of aroma—so as not to conflict with the wines.
Monsieur Morey held court on his biodynamic winemaking practices. His Meursaults were an ideal mineral match for the rich sea urchin bisque. But the star of the evening was Domaine Leflaive's 1989 Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet. Earlier that week, I had spoken with winery matriarch Anne-Claude Leflaive at a tasting at NYC's Le Bernadin, who said of that gem: "It's for those once-in-a-lifetime occasions—it's quite expensive—a wine for your honeymoon or your 20th anniversary, a wine makes you fall in love again."