Wine's Life with Spencer Garrett

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"Back when I was just beginning to drink wine, I visited my aunt & uncle in Switzerland. Marc loved his glass of wine when he came back from the office and, though he could have afforded French or Italian wines, he drank the local wine from the place where he grew up. He taught me that it doesn't matter what the label is, how much it costs, or what the reviewers say. The [only thing that] matters is that you enjoy the wine."

Listening to Spencer Garrett talk about wine is like taking a journey that starts in Italy and winds its way through Switzerland and Turkey before settling somewhere between Berkeley and France.

Studying in Florence some dozen years ago, his wine's life started with bottles of the local Chianti, shared with fellow students over dinner or picnics. But somewhere along the way, the intellectual in him came out, and he found himself buying two different bottles of 1990 Chianti to taste side-by-side.

"It was a seminal moment," he says, "because it went from appreciation of wine for its social aspect, to being able to think of wine in an academic, comparative way."

After moving back to the States, Garrett took a non-credit wine-tasting class and continued exploring wine as a hobby, all the while calling Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay his "house wine." A few years later, he was studying archaeology in Turkey and watched his hobby turn into a Master's Thesis.


"Over nine months, I brainstormed 11 possible thesis subjects and when I took them to my advisor, he [crossed off every one but] the last... it was my last choice, but I spent 18 months researching classical Greco-Roman wine making... in the Mediterranean."

After a stint at a custom crush facility in California, Garrett turned his attentions toward wine sales and today, he helps wine buyers stock their cellars at Kermit Lynch, an importer & retailer in Berkeley.

In his 20 months there, he's tasted over 950 wines, and he says that 99% of his wine purchases have been from their own stock. So, has access to this extremely focused collection of imports changed his own palate?

"Absolutely. One aspect is that [Kermit] is really, really good at choosing wine, whether it's $10 or $150 wine. And I love Rhones, red & white Loire wines and White Burgundy. I have some California wines that I can't drink anymore because they don't taste right [to me]. But I also don't eat the way I used to; I don't have as much red meat as I think the American wines call for."

When asked what he considers a "pinnacle" moment in his wine's life, Garrett tells two stories. First, of a family reunion last November in the private room of Farallon with a magnum of En Remilly Chassagne-Montrachet.

"The celebratory act of having it in a magnum, in this private room; having family & friends gathered there... and everybody across the spectrum loved [this wine] -- it sang for the people who know a lot, and it sang for the people who didn't know anything. And the wine worked with every single plate."

Then, Garrett starts talking about a tasting of Paul Bara Champagnes... his eyes close, his hands start gesturing, trying to capture words that could possibly describe the experience.

"When the ['93 Comtesse Marie de France] went into my mouth, it rose up and tingled and levitated... I felt 50 pounds lighter with that Champagne in my mouth... I felt like I was swallowing a golden orb."

Clearly, Spencer Garrett is passionate about his wine. So does he have a message for wine consumers?

"There is so much out there to taste and explore and learn. No one can taste it all. But it's like traveling -- you never know who you're going to meet. Go to different restaurants, try different things, explore. Just get excited about it."

Spencer Garrett works for Kermit Lynch, the eponymous Berkeley wine importer and retailer of French & Italian wines.

posted by Fatemeh Khatibloo-McClure