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Star-Ledger
12/1/1999

Rare Wine Shop

As a rule, people who are passionate about wine not only enjoy drinking it; they also like to read about it. The same goes for beer connoisseurs and aficionados of fine spirits such as cognac and single malt scotch.

For some, the goal is practical advice on which new labels to try, and which ones to avoid. Was the 1996 vintage in Bordeaux as good as the 1995? Which chateaux made the best wine? Others read because they've found the more they comprehend, the more they enjoy. And, Bacchus knows, there's a lot to learn.

Stage Left: An American Cafe in New Brunswick is known for having one of the more impressive wine lists in the region, not just for how many wines it offers--more than 700-but which ones: hard-to-find, small-production labels from mostly obscure vineyards.

Now the owners of Stage Left have opened a wine shop called Old Vines that is unlike any other I've seen. With its custom oak shelving, dim lighting, classical music and smartly attired attendants, Old Vines looks and feels more like a nobleman's library than a liquor store. In deference to the wines, the temperature in the store is kept at a cool 60 to 65 degrees; customers are advised to wear a sweater or jacket.

But what really sets Old Vines apart is its selection. If you're looking for Sutter Home or Beringer or Robert Mondavi, you'll have to go elsewhere; Old Vines doesn't carry those brands. Nor does it stock first-growth Bordeaux, Dom Perignon Champagne and other prestige labels you might expect to find in a high-end wine store.

In fact, Old Vines offers only about 300 selections--quite small compared to most liquor stores. What they do offer, though, is unusual. Virtually every wine in the store comes from little-known boutique wineries whose production levels are so low you won't likely find them anywhere else.

"There are a lot of wines I have only one or two cases of," explained Francis Schott, one of the store's owners. "After that, it's gone."

Prices range from $7.50 for a white Bordeaux to well over $100 for single-vineyard rarities such as Ojai pinot noir from the Pisoni Vineyard, one of the most intense California pinots I've tried. "I got just six bottles," Schott said.

What all of the wines have in common, Schott said, is a personality that's been defined not so much by the winemaker as by the vineyard in which the grapes were grown. "Anybody can buy an oak barrel," Schott said. "But can you make something that's unique and specific to the vineyard? It's got to express the soil."

"Everything in here is the best example of what it is," he added. "If you try my Sancerre and don't like it, then you don't like Sancerre. Everything is here because I think it's awesome."


Stage Left | 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 | T: 732.828.4444
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