Last year GQ Style Editor-in-Chief Will Welch made a list of talented people who he wanted to contribute to the new magazine that he had been tapped to edit. This was a big deal. Conde Nast was launching a new print (and digital) publication in 2016, so Will could choose practically anyone to write a column for him. Well, all of those people must have had problems receiving emails because he ended up with me.
It all actually happened in Florence where we were having a friendly dinner at Trattoria Marione during Pitti Uomo. Somewhere in-between dishes of pasta and bistecca Will told me that he wanted me to do a column every issue which focuses on the thoughts, reasoning and justification around the purchases we make —be that a cashmere sweater, a set of golf clubs or a bottle of Burgundy. It was meant to be a series of interesting new “vote with your dollars” stories which have historically been some of the least hated stories on ACL. Everything is hated, those just less than most everything else.
Obviously I quickly agreed and Buying for Value was born. The GQ Style people must be really busy being a hugely successful magazine and everything, because I’ve some how managed to submit a column for 5 issues so far and they haven’t remembered to get rid of me. Must be one of these situations.
Those stories (Eames + Crockett & Jones, Seiko + Japanese whisky, travel tech and now wine) have appeared in GQ Style over the past year with more coming. BFV has turned out to be some of the most enjoyable writing I have done in a long time. I have to seriously thank Will for offering me the opportunity (and for being a great editor who elevates my writing beyond belief) to not only be able to write (in print!) about brands that I love, but to also have free rein to talk about things that I truly believe in. It’s a dream assignment really and I hope people like reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.
Well as I mentioned, the most recent BFV column is about wine — one of my favorite things on earth. Specifically, how to drink great wine at a restaurant while simultaneously avoiding the meltdown that happens to most of us when the somm hands over the wine list. It doesn’t matter if you are with clients, on a date, or just out with good friends choosing a bottle spur of the moment can be way more stressful than it should be. So for BFV we tackled that problem head-on and broke down some methods for making sure you get the good stuff every time without panicking or overpaying. That story is here.
As part of this column I spoke with to some great people in the wine business including Anthony Lynch — son of the beloved writer and wine importer Kermit Lynch. I’ve read a lot of Anthony’s writing in the always anticipated monthly Kermit Lynch catalog and knew his perspective would be perfect for this story. A lot of our conversations couldn’t make the final edit, but I didn’t want this stuff to not see the light of day so I have the published the complete conversation below. Anthony was kind and generous with his time and for that I am extremely grateful. He even entertained my last minute and annoying personal queries for suggestions of estates to visit in Tuscany while I was there earlier in the year. There’s a lot of great stuff here and I hope it gets you out drinking and enjoying great wine.
ACL: The farm to table movement has really opened up consumer awareness and preference for small farms, independent growers and things that are local. Kermit Lynch (the man and the company) seems to have always sought out the unique small producers and labels that are truly special. Do you think there is value in supporting a small wine maker?
Anthony Lynch: There is certainly value in supporting a small winemaker: the producers my dad introduced to the U.S. and those I am actively seeking out are preserving an important aspect of a unique local culture. In many cases, this cultural value is lost with larger producers who are less tied to the land than these small-scale artisans.
On a human level—and this is something that really strikes me in my travels to these small, family-run estates—seeking out small winemakers means supporting somebody’s livelihood. Buying their wines puts food on the table of honest, hard-working people and allows them to carry on their passion of crafting this fascinating terroir-driven product.
ACL: With that same thought in mind. Do you think there’s value in drinking and or sharing a small maker that is not widely known?
AL: There certainly is for the above stated reasons, but not because these producers are small or lesser-know. At our company, we like to think of ourselves as importers of good wine more so than artisanal, small-production, natural, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it-wine. Quality comes above all, since we drink wine for the pleasure it provides. And if we can find this pleasure in sharing a wine made by a hermit on a mountainside of some remote, undiscovered corner of Italy, then why not?
ACL: What’s your take on big famous wine versus humble unknowns who also make great wine?
AL: Great is the key word here, and great wine should be appreciated regardless of how much of it is made. I dream of a world in which wine-drinking is dictated by the wine’s taste rather than by arbitrary measures of production scale, sulfur parts per million, or the grower’s facial hair. Unfortunately, it usually comes down to fashion and marketing, but I believe it is important to see both sides here, especially since big famous producers as well as humble unknowns are capable of making a tasty bottle of wine.
ACL: Do you have any tips for getting good value out of the wine you buy? Would futuring wine be a good way to get good value? What about ordering wine at a restaurant? Or finally, bringing a bottle to a restaurant and paying a corkage fee?
AL: Futuring would not be my method of choice for finding value; most wines offered on futures are extremely allocated and in high demand, so you can bet there is already a generous markup for most of these regardless of the discount advertised. Ordering wine at a restaurant is tricky to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with each wine’s retail price, and you may end up spending more time skimming the list for value than enjoying your night out. Certain restaurants, however, are known for their low margins on wine, encouraging diners to try bottles they might otherwise miss out on. I also get a kick out of bringing a selection of bottles into hole-in-the-wall taco joints, Korean BBQ, or Chinese restaurants that don’t care about corkage. But in fine-dining establishments, establishing a rapport with a trustworthy sommelier is your best bet, just as a good salesperson in a trusty wine shop is your best resource. They will likely steer you toward lesser-known regions and grapes, “rising star” winemakers whose prices have yet to increase, or entry-level bottlings from more famous producers to find good value.
ACL: Finally, I’m interested to get your take on buying wine at a restaurant. I have a theory about and I’m curious what you think about it. Firstly, the person needs to know what they like to drink. Knowing a grape or region is key. What I do is this: knowing what I like and choosing from that section of the list I single out the oldest bottle for the best price. I think a lot of people want to drink wine that they “like” as opposed to something that is “complex” or represents what is traditionally held as “good” wine by critics or sommeliers. I think the tannins in young wine makes people not “like” the taste, but they generally don’t know what they are not liking. So buying an older bottle where the tannins have time to diffuse makes the selection so much more drinkable and thereby enjoyable.
AL: As much as I love to experiment and encourage others to be open-minded about what to drink, I agree that when dining out, sticking with what you like is usually the safest bet. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve tried something new out of curiosity or because I’ve heard great things about so-and-so wine, then found myself with money down the drain and something I have no desire to drink in my glass. But then again, I’m a professional snob whose job entails being extremely discerning about wine, so perhaps that approach does not apply to everyone. As for the oldest bottle theory, that could yield interesting results, but beware of older vintages being marked up excessively. Many diners may indeed be turned off by the astringent tannins of certain young reds, so it is important to pick something with a minimum of respect for what food has been ordered as this can make or break the experience.
Finally, I’ve found most wines benefit from decanting, and not just big, tannic reds. If you plan on consuming the bottle the second it’s been opened, then chances are decanting will help regardless of whether you’re drinking white or red (even rosé and some Champagnes will benefit from decanting). My last piece of advice is to simply order Champagne, rosé, or cru Beaujolais if you are unsure. These wines are delicious in the most hedonistic sense, and tend to pair with just about anything you put on the table.