Thursday, June 04, 2009

Collector and Caviste

George dos Santos of Antic Wine, in Vieux Lyon

A set of skeleton keys on a ring hangs by the door, and we take them to go downstairs. A series of doors are unlocked. Footsteps sound gently down a steep stairwell made of old chiseled stone. It is time to get a bottle. Loic keeps a list with details on when any bottle might be best to open. Our cave is rather rudimentary. We have to bring out an extension chord and plug it in outside in the pathway (I hesitate to call it a hallway), just to get light in there. We can't store anything but wine either, since the humidity level is too high. Cardboard boxes disintegrate in that kind of environment, furniture would be ruined. Ikea shelves line with bottle racks and crates that age rather quickly, along with some styrofoam bottle nooks line the walls. We keep other things, like that big ladder we use a couple of times a year, and some other junk. The wine in our cave is really nothing special when you think about what a wine can promise, however. For about 9 years we've been building up our little collection of wines we taste at the vineyards and buy by the case, but we have never really had the means to build a real discriminating collection.

For all of the wonderful ways to get good wine in this country, sometimes going to a caviste is the best way to go. For one thing, visiting the vineyards takes a lot of time. When we went to the Bordeaux region and only had 10 days, we had a hard time choosing what vineyards to visit, and scheduling took some finesse. When you take the time to visit a producer, you are pretty much locked into at least an hour of listening, learning, touring, tasting. You really have to budget your time, plan very carefully, and be very choosy about which doors to knock on. There's no way to fit your hopes and dreams into into one visit, or into the trunk of your car. You get tied up in the stories. It's very hard to cover a whole lot of ground in these circumstances. For this reason, when we go to specific regions, one thing we always do in addition to visiting the vineyards is to find a reputable caviste there, and see what he might have for tasting.

This is not my cave - it is the 16th century cellar at Antic Wine, Vieux Lyon

A caviste is a person with a passion for collecting wine that has translated into a life calling. Every caviste has his way of filling out his cave, and his way of relating to his clients. In St. Emilion, we visited one who specialized in wines local to the region. Each day he had a different set of a dozen bottles open to taste, compare, discuss and buy. He did very good business there. The main benefit of going to a caviste is that you are profiting from this person's expertise when you enter the shop. The price stays reasonable, on the whole, for the product. Being a caviste is an honest business. You're paying them for the research they have already done - their education, their experience, knowledge of their collection, and their ability to obtain certain vintages that the average vinyard tour customer on a road trip would never have. An independent caviste's collection can be truly exceptional, so keep your eye out for them, wherever you go in France.

One truly exceptional independent caviste I know in Lyon is George dos Santos, working out of Vieux Lyon, from his shop called Antic Wine. He is a collector. He has nurtured and grown, in his way, and on his terms, traveling the world, a simply amazing collection of those rare wines you might find at auction, in addition to just plain hard to find French and international bottles and vintages. At the same time, wine is in the end for drinking, n'est-ce pas? While collecting the wine is fine, we also like to taste and understand what makes these wines fun to seek out and such a thrill to share.

George regularly holds tastings at his wine bar two doors down, Le George Five. Featuring 2800 bottles on the menu and 120 bottles open for drinking by the glass per week, you've got a great opportunity to taste and learn. They serve small plates of the best kind of finger food - Buffalo Mozzarella, Sardines, truffles in Brie and Saint Felicien cheese, dried sausage from Ardeche, Corsican pâtés, Parma ham, Pata Negra cut from the bone from it's throne of honor on the bar. Le George Five has quickly become a wine bar of choice for enthusiasts and gourmandes alike.

George dos Santos' regular organized wine tasting soirees have proven so popular that they now have to turn a lot of people away. They are always booked well in advance. He also holds private tastings of special bottles by invitation only. George regularly teams up with Lyon's top chefs to prepare accompanying dishes at these private soirées. If you are visiting Lyon it's through your concierge that you are most likely to get access to these types of events, although purchasing from his shop during the day might allow you to broach the subject with him or a member of his staff.

For a wine enthusiast, going into George dos Santos' shop is a cathartic experience. This year there has been quite a buzz about his imports in the international press. I was there a couple of weeks ago to take his portrait for a wine magazine recently. I got the sense that for George, there is a certain spirituality in his activity as collector and caviste that I feel privileged to be near. Perhaps it is the collector in me. He hits the right note. I certainly can trust him with my wine selections. When I have a very special bottle to buy, George dos Santos is the man.

Antic Wine
18 rue de Boeuf
69005 LYON

Le George Five
32 rue de Boeuf
69005 LYON

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Blogger Martha said...

There is nothing like good wine and a cave. Linderhof has one but not as charming as yours -- but perfect for storing wine.

12:59 PM, June 04, 2009  
Blogger SmitoniusAndSonata said...

A true expert with a love for what he/she does and the generosity to share this knowledge is always a person to treasure . You're lucky to have found him .... and to live nearby !

6:10 PM, June 04, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the idea of a bottle of wine with pasta and Gruyere and a movie sounds so sweet!

10:49 PM, June 04, 2009  
Anonymous Dillon said...

Oh what treasures you have.
If there is a down side to owning a wine nursery, it's that, when I eventually chose my bottle for an occasion I immediately put it back in the rack, chose another, only for it to be returned as well.... and so on and so on... I usually I return to the original bottle. It drives my wife insane. (although I secretly love playing the game)

1:34 AM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger Tracey said...

I love the picture of the wine bottles on the stairway with the light shining through; it's really gorgeous.

1:41 AM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger Roberto N. said...

I got to know Georges while I was in Lyon, unfortunately I haven't been able to keep in touch with the guy since... well about six years ago! Definitely one plae to visit in Lyon

4:25 AM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger Olga said...

These photos are just lovely! Beautiful blog! :) please drop by mine too! :)

1:35 PM, June 14, 2009  
Anonymous Nick Soma said...

Wonderful photos and a master in concept. This is such a great and luxurious image that collide with the native heart of mine.

10:53 AM, June 15, 2009  
Anonymous Erica Hughes said...

I am hooked! What a wonderful blog - I have not heard of a caviste before, but when next in France it will certainly be on my list of places to visit. I love the writing and the photos on this blog. Thank you Lucy - roll on Summer!

11:52 PM, June 30, 2009  
Blogger Heather said...

I love your blog. I too was recently terrorized by many (mostly grandparent aged) people telling me "your life is going to change completely."

Frankly, I liked my life.

But they were wrong. My life hasn't changed that much. Granted, I never got up at three AM on a regular basis before, and eating out is a bit trickier, but in truth, Addison has simply added to our lives, not overrun them.

Of course, once he begins to run things may change!

2:44 PM, July 01, 2009  
Blogger Srivalli said...

what a lovely cave it is..:)..lucy you have such a lovely space are just too fabulous!..

7:45 PM, July 01, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

I had the pleasure of buying wine at the Cave last Christmas. We were staying just up the rue de Boeuf and it was such as treat to stock up with wonderful wine at great prices for our special festive meals.

Lucy- your blog was both an inspiration for our trip to Lyon and the perfect guide to eating and drinking well while we were there.


11:59 AM, July 10, 2009  

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