In Food + Drink

Curating A Wine Collection For The Ultra-Rich

An expert sommelier's guide to navigating and finding inspiration in some of the world’s best drops.

As an award-winning sommelier with two decades experience in the drinks game and the current General Manager of Beverages at Crown Resorts, Chris Crawford knows his way around fine wines and vintage tipples. He’s responsible for overseeing 424,000 bottles at one of the world’s finest beverage selections, nestled deep in the cellar of Crown Melbourne.

“I once received a phone call saying ‘Mr X is turning forty and would like forty bottles of Penfolds Grange from his birth year. He wants them in thirty-six hours, in Hong Kong… can you make that happen?’,” says Crawford. Such is the life of a celebrated and expert oenophile.

But Crawford is currently readying himself for a new role that’s sure to stretch his enviable knowledge and test that wine-soaked little black book of his. When the luxurious Crown Residences at One Barangaroo opens in Sydney in early 2021, Crawford will be on hand to offer personalised and curated wine lists to each of the 82 apartment owners. And with an expected starting price of $9.5 million for the ‘cheapest’ of the luxe new abodes, he’s sure a few residents will have pretty expensive taste.

What does the perfect wine list look like?

So just what will these ultra-rich individuals be looking for in their bespoke wine fridges?

“I think a perfect wine list is about balance,” says Crawford. “You’ve got to have something for everyone and for every occasion. My philosophy is wine should be drunk with friends, family and food – and great things should be open and enjoyed.

“You’ve got to have things that you can put away and keep, and things that you can access all the time because what’s the point of having things that’re nice to look at but you can’t touch? So, it’s about a bit of balance.”

Crawford’s experience, expertise and contacts means he has access to almost every wine from every major producing region in the world. He says he usually likes to ask someone what they like and what they would normally drink before he makes assumptions about their taste. But he does have a few favourites that he’d recommend.

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“I think Australia is making some absolutely sensational wines at the moment. I drink a lot of Australian wines at home – I drink a lot of European if my wallet can afford it – but now’s a really hot time for Australian wine and there’s some things [that I’d recommend] that people would never even have heard of.

“For instance, Chatto Pinot Noir from Tasmania. Jim Chatto was chief winemaker at McWilliams and he consults there now, but Chatto is his little one-hectare block in the Huon Valley that just does Pinot. They’re not extraordinarily expensive – on a wine list they’d be about $120 a bottle, which is kind of average for Aussie Pinot – but we only get a handful of bottles each year. And they’re phenomenal. It’s hopefully an emerging iconic region, producer and style.”

Affordable wines

He says really good wine doesn’t have to cost $150,000 a bottle – although he does get requests for those from time to time – and that really good, premium wine can still be affordable.

“The Mount Mary Triolet (2015), from the Yarra Valley, is another one. This wine is in homage to a dry white Bordeaux. It’s predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and then a tiny bit of Muscadelle. And it’s fantastic.”

Ultra-premium wines

“If we’re talking super rare wines – Domaine Roulot from Meursault in France. They just make Chardonnay and the wines aren’t expensive in the scheme of price, an entry level bottle on a wine list would probably be $250-300. But that’s only if you could find it. The wine is super hard to get because they just don’t make enough but they are mind-blowing.”

Crawford also says Triennes Provence Rosé is spectacular, and fortunately, relatively available. He says it’s hard to go past Dom Perignon (in particular, the 2009 vintage) because they produce incredibly consistent styles. And that Bindi Kaye Pinot Noir and Serrat Shiraz Viognier are another two notable favourites.

“And Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, from the Barossa, is one that always sells out and is highly allocated. But on a wine list they’re about $140. It’s just all about getting access.”

Accessing rare wines

How does one go about getting access to really rare and hard-to-get wines?

“The best advice I can give [to people seeking these rare wines] is to befriend your local retailer. These top wines are made in minuscule amounts and competition is fierce. High-end retailers would receive an allocation, so you’ll need to ask the question. These wines sometimes appear on Wine Auction websites around the globe, so it’s also always worth keeping your ear to the ground.”

So, if this wine expert were to be stranded on a desert island for the rest of his life – and money and accessibility were no object – what wine would he have with him? What three bottles would he put on the wine list of a multi-millionaire?

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“The desert island question is always a tough one, it’s like saying choose your favourite child.

Champagne. If I had survived some disaster and ended up on an island I’d want to celebrate. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007 would be a suitable way to start.

“Chardonnay. Stella Bella Chardonnay 2017 from the Margaret River. Australian Chardonnay is on point on a global scale at the moment, producing wines of quality and value while being expressive of where they come from.

“Pinot Noir. I’m an absolute sucker for this variety. If I wasn’t going to be ever rescued and I had to choose the same bottle of wine to drink over and over again? Domaine de La Romanée-Conti Romanée-Saint-Vivant 2000. I recently shared a bottle of this with my wife. It was a gift to each other for our recent wedding. We shared this over a few hours and watched it evolve. It was perfect wine for a perfect night.”

Making miracles happen

As for the gentleman who ordered 40 bottles of Grange for his 40th birthday? Did Crawford manage to conjure such rarefied grape juice in just 36 hours?

“I don’t know how we made that happen… I didn’t realise Penfolds only open the cellar in the morning on a Thursday and that’s the only access you get during the week. I called the chief winemaker and said ‘Can we make this happen?’ and he said, point-blank ‘That’s impossible!’. But he contacted someone else and got access. We sent a plane over and then I got it packaged up for international and got it sent over and somehow we hit the deadline. Pretty amazing, really. They’re the sort of things that we love to be able to do. It doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen.”

Judging from Crawford’s expertise, it’s safe to say that the future Residents of One Barangaroo are in very safe hands.

(Lead image: Felipe Benoit / Unsplash) 

Published 04 February, 2019