The qualities of the New England ‘Yankee Cellar’ are parts travelogue, family chronicle, and individual taste, which usually evolves over time.
As a visitor to this kind of cellar, I am often impressed by the personal nature of the layout. Binning and organization are driven by eras of collecting, trips taken to the world’s classic wine regions in France, Italy and Germany, which influenced subsequent buying patterns. Bottles and cases are stored with a layout akin to a memory palace – making sense to the collector, but little to others.
There are racks of different styles, purchased or cobbled together as the collection grew. Old pry bars and hammers lie next to yellowed notebooks with tasting notes and open, nailed-together, splintering wooden cases. Cobwebs and layers of dust cover everything, guarding a quietly maturing, resting cellar of wines with great aging power. The collection shows its provenance quite literally on its sleeve.
A cellar like this has soul.
The Yankee Cellar can also yield surprises and long lost treasures: “Ah, that’s where I put that bottle!” Stashed away years, decades earlier, the last bottles to be reached in the back of bins, behind other, more modest bottles, are often the gems of the collection. Full cases are not that common; if the wood case still exists, it’s usually empty of a few bottles long-since drunk, but still remembered.
Last month, I had the privilege of speaking with Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal about the personality of a Yankee Cellar, and on May 4, 2011, some of the finest wines I’ve found in these cellars will be on the auction block.