What Took So Long?

For the first time in its 10-year history, Restaurant Latour at the Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg has been named to Wine Enthusiast magazine's annual list of the 100 Best Wine Restaurants in the U.S., joining vaunted New York establishments such as Per Se, Le Bernardin and Daniel.

The 1900 Latour bordeaux is the most expensive bottle in the collection. Its current value is around $48,000. Photo by Jeff Elkins.

The magazine divides the country into four regions: Northeast, South, Central and West.

The Northeast covers Maine to Maryland, including Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

In all, 35 Northeast restaurants made the list:

–20 in New York City
–6 in Washington, D.C.
–2 in Cambridge, Mass.
–2 in Westchester County, New York
–1 in Philadelphia (Talula’s Garden)
–1 in Boston
–1 in Baltimore
–1 in Burlington, Vermont

Restaurant Latour was the only winner in New Jersey.

See the full list of 100, with the magazine’s descriptions, here.

Latour’s 135,000-bottle collection, worth an estimated $25-million, was started by the late Gene Mulvihill nearly 50 years ago. Mulvihill, the developer who created or brought together under one corporate banner Sussex County’s Mountain Creek Ski area and the Crystal Springs Golf Resorts, created Restaurant Latour in 2004. He died in 2012.

"We never did much PR when Gene was alive," says Robby Younes, Latour’s wine director and vice president of hospitality and lodging for the entire Crystal Springs Resort. "But after he died, we decided the world should know how special Gene’s collection is. So we hired Pr and we held some tasting events, including an all-riesling dinner, and someone from Wine Enthusiast came to at least one of those, and they were bowled over."

Mulvihill’s collection is not only broad, but deep in every important category, and world-class in all the first great growths of Bordeaux (such as Chateau Latour, for which the restaurant is named). It is also rich in rieslings, rare New World wines and wines dating to the 1800s.

All of the wines, some 9100 labels, are listed in the two-volume set every Latour guest is invited to peruse: one volume of whites and one of reds. Each is as thick as the Manhattan phone book.

You do remember phone books, don’t you?

Latour is a sophisticated 42-seat restaurant on the 3rd floor of the Crystal Springs clubhouse. Its sheer glass wall faces west. At this time of year, guests watch the sun set over the Kittatinny Ridge.

The wine collection is stored in a catacomb-like series of temperature and humidity-controlled rooms in the basement.The labyrinth of stone-walled rooms (each dedicated to wines of a different part of the world) have glass windows for viewing as customers walk through the curving corridors. The cellar also features two private dining rooms for 10-25 guests.

Younes says that people from Wine Enthusiast first dined at Latour anonymously, then on a return visit identified themselves.

According to Younes, the editor, “told me this was one of the biggest wine cellars he had seen in his life, and compared it to European cellars in France and Germany."

When Younes came to work at Latour in 2008, he was 28 years old and a long way from his native Lebanon and the Grappa and Muscato his family made. Mulvihill became his mentor and a father figure, giving him the priceless opportunity to sample the best wines in the world.

“My duty and job is to carry Gene’s passion,” Younes says. “I do believe I have to keep on with his vision and mission. It’s my promise to keep Latour going and to keep making it better and better."

Younes credits veteran sommelier Susanne Lerescu with bringing the treasures of the cellar to the attention of Latour guests, enabling them to find precisely the right wine at the right price for each meal or even each course of their meal. Yes, many of the wines are priceless. But many more are affordable. The list also holds many wines that would sell for nearly twice the price in Manhattan.

“In this large cellar I often forget about time and space,” says Lerescu, “so to come up one day and find out that we won this award makes me feel proud of the work I do and to be a part of a team that’s considered one of America’s best.”

The pair knows where each wine came from, what its characteristics are–of the soil, the grapes and the particular year of its vintage. Not only can they tell you about the vineyard, they know which side of a hill it came from and how that affects the finished wine.

On July 10, Younes will go to Manhattan to receive the official plaque

Where will Younes hang the plaque–in the top-floor restaurant that serves the wine or in the cellar where the wines are stored?

"In the cellar," says Younes, "where it belongs."

 

AND THIS JUST IN…

The World of Fine Wine, a magazine for collectors, examined more than 4,000 restaurant wine lists around the world and chose 750 for its inaugural World’s Best Wine Lists award. Each of the 750 were given a rating of 1, 2, or 3 stars. Latour was one of the 225 to be rated 3 stars.

Read what the magazine said about Latour here.

And for the ninth consecutive year, Latour has received Wine Spectator magazine’s highest honor, the Grand Award. About 1,500 restaurants around the world receive the Grand Award each year.

 

Restaurant Latour

 

SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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