A Magnificent Wine Cellar
In over thirty years of chasing the grape around the world I have seen more than my fair share of magnificent wine cellars — underground caves in which I would happily be locked for the night, as long as I had a corkscrew. But I was not prepared for the cellar I came across in the most unlikely of destinations.
I recently visited the Bahamas and in Nassau, I stayed at Graycliff. This hotel dates back to the 1740s and was originally the home of John Howard Graysmith. The captain of the schooner Graywolf, Graysmith was a notorious pirate. And there’s something of a latter-day buccaneer in Enrico Garzaroli, Graycliff’s current owner. Garzaroli bought the imposing mansion in 1974 and refurbished it as an inn and a top class restaurant along with his own cigar production facility. The cigar operation employs 16 cigar rollers, called torcedores, mainly from Cuba, who make seven different blends. The original blend, called ‘The Graycliff’ was created by Fidel Castro’s personal roller, Alvino Lara
But Enrico Garzaroli’s pride and joy is his wine cellar; he has been collecting wine for over 20 years and even he is not certain as to how many bottles lie in the rabbit warren of rooms in the basement of the hotel. Graycliff’s website at one point says 175,000 bottles and at another 250,000. The inventory also boasts one of the world’s largest selections of Cognacs, Armagnacs (a whole wall of vintage dated Armagnac back to 1910, each in its own wooden case) and vintage Ports. I was told that the value of the collection is between $12 and $14 million US.
A tour of the cellar reveals a labyrinth of rooms, some dedicated to a specific region, and culminating in the chandeliered dining room with a large polished oak table that can sit 16. In the dining room above, with my wife Deborah, I study the wine list and note the cost of the rare bottles: Château Lafite 1890 ($18,480), Lafite 1900 ($19,950), a magnum of Lafite 1947 ($20,240), Palmer 1953 ($2,660), Cheval Blanc 1945 ($12,800), Haut-Brion 1959 ($8,100), Romanée-Conti 1952 ($18,800) and Sassicaia 1968, the first ever vintage of this wine ($6,900). I opt for something more modest — a bottle of Cantine Leonardo da Vinci Morellino di Scansano 2006.
We order the tasting menu. An amuse-bouche arrives, four bite-sized morsels of egg and caviar, beetroot with goat’s cheese and walnut, smoked duck with roasted grapefruit and tuna carpaccio. First course: foie gras in a reduced date and plum sauce. Gary, the sommelier, brings over a bottle of Paul Blanck Furstentum Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2000 courtesy of the house. Then Enrico Garzaroli joins us at the table and we talk of the winemakers we know in common.
“Some people collect rare automobiles, coins or art,” he says. “I collect wine.” For the next course, two small rectangular bowls of conch chowder and lobster bisque separated by a small glass of peppered sherry. Enrico (we are now on first-name terms) insists we have a bottle of Inama Soave 2003 with the soup. The Soave also accompanies the sea bass. A spoonful of raspberry sorbet sets us up for the next course — duck à l’orange. With this we have the Morellino di Scansano, but Enrico has ordered a bottle of Cascia Chicco Nebbiolo d’Alba Mompissa 2006, which he insists is a better match. Both wines accompany the pepper steak that follows. By this time we are ready to cry ‘uncle’ but the chef persuades us to have a little dessert. It turns out to be three egg-cup-sized pots of soufflés — Grand Marnier, Guava and Chocolate.
Enrico has not finished with us yet. He has been telling us about some amazing grappas that he enjoys. He disappears into the cellar and returns with two wood-aged grappas and a selection of chocolates that are made in Graycliff’s chocolate factory: Magia Berta Grappa 1993 and Ron Zacapaxo Solera Gran Riserva Especial Grappa. They taste like fine Armagnacs. As we sip these digestifs he regales us with stories of bottles of wine his guests have purchased: “An Iranian and two of his friends ran up a $60,000 dinner drinking Lafite 1961 … I had a Texan spend $17,200 on a 1795 Terrantez. This gentleman knew exactly what he had purchased and savoured every sip. His only fear was that another bottle would not be available upon his return to Graycliff.”