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You Have to Take a Look...

Recently, I wrote about special occasion wines and that two of my three categories of special occasion wines are marked by the fact that they're difficult to find (the exception being "Rolls Royce" wines like Chateau Petrus, Screaming Eagle and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which can be found featured at most major wine auctions). But I recently discovered a new website that unlocks the mystery of where to find many of the rarest "unicorn wines."

SOMMPICKS is the brainchild of well-known New York sommelier Mike Zima and his wife and partner, Azziza BenSaid, working with other top somms to source and assemble a list of extraordinary and unique wines...what they call "'epic juice.'" They do offer a few selections of very high-end spirits (if you've ever wondered where to find Pappy Van Winkle, now you know) and of fortified wines, but most of their list consists of red, white and sparkling wine. The first time I perused the list, my mouth fell open. I saw wine after wine that I'd only dreamed of seeing for sale. Now, full disclosure--most are not inexpensive. But given their rarity, they don't seem unfairly priced.

A few examples help make the point. Those of us who love champagne--and I count myself one--have heard and read about Jacques Selosse--a name that's spoken with reverence. I've seen a bottle here and there but not many--and usually very pricy. SOMMPICKS has what looks like about a full page of Jacques Selosse. Want a bottle of Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Millesime from the great 2002 vintage? It's there. You'll pay a little over $600 for it...but that's not really surprising for such a rare "bucket list" wine. I haven't placed an order--retired life/fixed income has its constraints--but I've run my eyes past it on the list at least once a week, pausing to smile. I have ordered a few champagnes, but I've chosen from the well selected menu of more reasonably priced options. Cedric Bouchard, Ulysse Collin and Chartogne-Taillet are among the very hard to find, but not to afford, winners they offer.

How about white wines? If your wallet is full, you might be tempted by the 1er Cru Les Perrieres from Coche-Dury or the Ravenau Grand Cru Les Clos. But if you can't/won't spend >$1500 for meursault or >$450 for chablis, you can still find gems. Ravenau 1er Cru is less than $200 and Dauvissat Grand Cru is in the same general price range. Domaine Roulot--which many of us have heard about but never experienced--is just a little higher. Want to drink what some of the cool kids are drinking? Jean-François Ganevat's chardonnay from the Jura is less than $100.

Among the reds, of course there's tons of burgundy, including many of the big names--Domaine Dujac, Armand Rousseau, Comte Liger-Belair, and Roumier. Much of it is too rich for my blood. But there are some excellent village wines that are affordable. And the list of high-end and cult beaujolais is almost as long as the burgundy list--and for perhaps a tenth of the price. There are some real treasures from other regions. Clos Rougeard, the legend from the Loire Valley--often talked about but seldom seen--is available in perhaps ten vintages. And speaking of legends, how about four vintages of Chateau Rayas? The only places I've seen Rayas previously were on the wine lists of a couple of famous restaurants, where it was priced well north of $1000. SOMMPICKS has it between $300 and $400. That's not chicken feed...but for a wine you wondered if you'd ever taste in your lifetime, it bears considering. And I've been on the lookout for Thierry Allemand Cornas for quite a while without any luck. SOMMPICKS has an extraordinary selection--including four vintages from the1990s.

An interesting question is where Mike and his team find these rare and unique wines. In fact, it's one that I've heard a few of their competitors ask. I think you can't underestimate the contacts that top big city somms make over time. They build relationships with highly regarded producers who want to be on the lists in their famous restaurants. But they also build relationships with people who regularly patronize their restaurants and talk wine with them--people with deep personal cellars of classic wines which they sometimes thin out. And they get advance notice from fellow somms about restaurants that may want to sell all or part of their collections. I'm sure there are other sources--but the key is they have the expertise to know what to look for and the relationships to be able to find it.

Unlike many websites, you can engage Mike and his team via phone or email to find something special. If you're a serious wine lover, you probably don't need help finding a superb chablis to serve at your dinner party--you can work your way through the merits of their different Ravenau and Dauvissat offerings yourself. But if you've got a lot of people to serve and you need a high quality chablis for ~$30 per bottle, you may want to talk to them. That's the kind of question only a real expert can answer.

If you love really special wines--not just high priced luxury goods in a bottle but really special wines--you owe it to yourself to check out SOMMPICKS. I keep their website open on my iPad. I refresh and scan it every few days--for me, it's like catnip! I can't afford to buy each time--but I can certainly dream each time.

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