Behind an inconspicuous door at Restaurant Latour, Gene Mulvihill, co-owner and developer of the Crystal Springs Resort in New Jersey’s northwest corner, has amassed one of the largest and most impressive restaurant wine collections in the world, boasting more than 100,000 bottles.
It’s an abundance of wine. If you lived to be 100 years old and shared a bottle with a friend every day of your adulthood, you would not taste one-third of this collection. As I peer through the glass-enclosed rooms on a recent tour of this exceptional cellar, it strikes me that this would be an ideal place to hang out until I reach 100. I press my arm against the glass and feel its coolness. The bottles look like babies in a nursery, each with its label and vintage prominently displayed.
“There are no fillers,” Mulvihill proudly remarks as he leads me through his underground domain. The commitment is to select the best wines and their best vintages.
We meander through the stone tunnels. Large silver candelabras project an amber light. It’s a Who’s Who of wine: Pétrus, Ausone, Le Pin, Cheval Blanc and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC). All of Bordeaux’s first growths are visible: Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild. I focus on the Château Latour. There are more than 90 vintages of this famous wine, the oldest from 1863. Could this wine still be good? Mulvihill guarantees that none of the wines in his cellar are flawed by oxidation or cork taint.
Mulvihill can make this claim thanks to the cellar’s Nuclear Magnetic Resonance laboratory, where individual bottles of wine are analyzed without being disturbed or opened. The NMR equipment—developed at University of California, Davis, with funding from Mulvihill—evaluates the quality of the wine by determining the amount of acetic acid and other chemical components in the wine.
Beyond the lab, the many cave-like enclosures throughout the cellar are filled with wine, each room generally representing a country or region. Each cavernous room has its own temperature and humidity control. Many of the red wines are cooled to 52 to 56 degrees, slightly low for reds, but this cooler temperature slows the aging process and preserves the most fragile older vintages. Humidity in the entire cellar is set between 60 and 70 percent to ensure that the corks do not dry-out, which would permit oxygen to reach and spoil the wine.
As we stroll, a 1935 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma, California, catches my eye; this wine was made only two years after Prohibition was repealed. It’s rare to see a bottle that old from California. More typical are the California “cult” wines—so-called because of their cult-like followings of wine enthusiasts—from wineries such as Screaming Eagle and Bryant Family. These wines, which date back no more than 20 or 30 years and are priced well above $100, are amply represented in the Latour cellar.
The cellar is stocked with high-end, hard-to-find wines with hefty prices—such as that 1863 Château Latour, which is priced at $17,700—but it also has high-quality, reasonably priced wines. The online wine list shows a few reds from France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape region for under $50; the Louis de Clermont-Tonnerre, Cuvée Patricia, 2001, is $36, and a Château Fortia, Tradition, 2003, runs $47. There also are a number of Ridge Zinfandels from California priced between $40 and $45; and German Rieslings, such as the Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Kabinett, 2007, at $25.
The collection is hardly a secret. Restaurant Latour has been a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 2006; it is one of only three restaurants in New Jersey to earn this title. (The others are Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster and Park and Orchard in East Rutherford.) The Latour cellar has more than 100 wines rated 100 points by Wine Spectator or Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Mulvihill is quick to share credit for the collection. Most of the portfolio, he explains, was acquired with the help of New Jersey wine consultant John Foy of the Wine Odyssey. Mulvihill also praises the cellar’s sommelier, Susanne Lerescu, for her easy way with wine presentations and attention to detail in cataloging the wines. (Later, I chat with Lerescu about Riesling, her favorite wine—not because it is from her native Germany, but because she finds Rieslings food-friendly and enjoyable. I have to agree with her.)
Prior to the cellar tour, Mulvihill and I dined in the restaurant while gazing at the surrounding sun-drenched mountains. We enjoyed a bottle of 2001 Vincent Girardin Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru from Burgundy, France. The wine was golden, full-bodied with well-integrated flavors of ripe pear, melon and a nutty quality.
The staff was buzzing with excitement about a dinner planned for that evening in the wine cellar. Robby Younes, wine director and vice president of hospitality and lodging, visited our table to update Mulvihill on the event. From what I could gather, the main course would be a rack of lamb from the resort’s ranch in Colorado, paired with either a 1982 Château Latour or a 1982 Château Pichon Longueville Baron, among other courses and famous wines. It’s enough to make you want to live to be 100.
Sharla Blanz writes the weekly On the Vine blog at njmonthly.com.
Restaurant Latour is located in the Grand Cascades Lodge at the Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg. The resort boasts seven golf courses, two spas and an enclosed biosphere pool. Free wine cellar tours are offered at 3 pm daily and include a wine tasting. For information call 973-827-5996; crystalgolfresort.com.