The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

IWM Client Interview: Richard Reich

Posted on | January 29, 2010 | Written by Frank Sansotta | 3 Comments

The role of a wine portfolio manager at IWM is to assist each client with his or her wine desires. What I love most about my job as a wine portfolio manager is the relationships I build with each client. It’s great to help select wines and to recommend food, but I enjoy the conversations the most.

Every Saturday we host tastings in our Studio del Gusto and highlight a different region in Italy. A few months back I received a phone call from a wonderful man named Richard Reich from Conway, South Carolina. He told me that he just read Sergio Esposito’s book Passion on the Vine and that he was interested in coming up for a tasting. A few Saturdays later I had the pleasure of meeting Richard at a tasting focused on Veneto. He and I ended up spending the entire afternoon chatting about wine, food and wine regions he’s seen. There are many oenophiles around the world who are followed and admired because they write books or have a rich background on the topic that I enjoy following. However, I enjoy people like Richard Reich the most because they have been drinking wine as aregular consumer. His views are not skewed by advertising or relationships with importers. He is a straight shooter who just tells it how he tastes it.

A few weeks back I conducted a series of questions with Richard and would like to share them with the rest of the wine world.

When did you start drinking wine and what was the wine that got you hooked?

I was introduced to wine in 1955 when stationed with the U.S. Army at Bussac, France, as a registered pharmacist in charge of a military pharmacy at the American army base located there. Arriving in January1955 and full of curiosity about French culture, I was quite interested to learn about all things French, most especially about wine. I began studying French, which led to weekend trips to Bordeaux,about 30 kilometers south, to try out my new language skills. I was like a sponge in water, eager to soak up everything I could learn about this marvelous sensation unfolding before my very eyes.With each succeeding weekend bus ride between Bussac and Bordeaux, I witnessed the emergence and growth of grape leaves and clusters of grapes covering the landscape everywhere I looked.

On one such occasion, during the summer of 1955, I made my customary bus trip to Bordeaux and decided to have lunch at an outdoor cafe on amain plaza downtown at the bus drop-off point. Once seated, I began looking for an opportunity to practice my French on the waiter when I heard English being spoken at the next table. There were about a half-dozen people seated there engaged in French/English conversation, and by their demeanor it became apparent to me they were French students working on their English. What a golden opportunity for me to make some English speaking French contacts! Setting aside any inhibitions I may have had, I introduced myself in “Frenglish,” and soon a very animated discussion got underway. It turned out my new acquaintances were all French locals enrolled as English majors at the University in Bordeaux, and they were quite anxious to help me with my French, acquaint me with locals, and immerse me in the world of Bordeaux wines. My learning curve shifted into high gear as the group and I made plans for me to be included in their local activities since they, too, were very much interested in the”Bordeaux wine experience.”

Through this chance encounter, I had the amazing experience in observing, first hand, the Bordeaux grape harvests of 1955 and 1956 atpublic wine tasting events taking place in the city. To experience the adventure of being on the scene in the heart of Bordeaux at two harvests was an eye-opening, life-changing event for me. The wine ran in the streets and I was hooked.

In your 50-plus years of wine drinking what has changed the most?

In my 55 years of “sipping, swishing and swallowing,” what I believe has changed the most is the wide acceptance of wine as the preferred drink with meals, worldwide, due to the enormous expansion of new geographic areas of the world producing top quality, affordable wines.The educated wine palette of consumers has benefited immensely due to wine producing entrepreneurs recognizing wine consumption trends. This has prompted winery development and distribution of crafted wines to meet the discerning tastes of many seeking wines to enhance their quality of life.

What is the single most important aspect of a wine for you? Color,body, taste, ageability?

Wine is comprised of multiple characteristics, each of which can have an important bearing on the drinkability of a wine. Whether it is color, body, taste, smell, shelf life, viscosity, terroir, price, it all adds up to one thing and one thing only. When tasting a wine, ask yourself this key question: do I like it? That single question covers the entire gamut of wine characteristics and considerations, and takes into account every element about the wine.

What are a few of your favorite wines or the greatest of your lifetime and why?

A few favorites for too many reasons to enumerate:1983 Giuseppe Quintarelli–Cabernet Franc1977 Tommasi–Amarone Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico1995 Casanova di Neri–Tenuto Nuova Brunello di Montalcino 1997 Staglin Family Vineyard–Cabernet Sauvignon 1988 Patriglione Brindisi.

What does drinking wine mean to you?

To me, wine drinking represents a glorious opportunity to share something of great value with those you love and hold dear. I remember an incident that occurred shortly after I first met John Lester, who became my very dear friend through our mutual appreciation for wine. John, who had been invited to my home for dinner, was quite interested in wines and quickly accepted my invitation to see our wine collection. In perusing the wine cellar, I asked John if therewas any particular wine of interest to him. He responded by expressing his liking for fine Piemonte wines. I showed John a few Barolos, but his eyes gleamed when I pulled out a 1983 Giuseppe Quintarelli Alzero. As we completed our wine room tour, John expressed his passion for such a fine, hard-to-find wine.

When we sat down to dinner, I produced the admired bottle of wine to my new friend’s startled amazement. After decanting, I offered John the first taste. When he put the Riedel glass to his nose, the tears came to his eyes! John exclaimed astonishment at the sensation his nose had experienced. When John sipped the wine and allowed it to swirl about in his mouth, I felt certain he would cry. A glow came to his face as he slowly allowed the wine to ease down his throat. John’s emotional response to this wine brought tears to my eyes in sympathy for the way I knew John felt. I thought to myself: here’s a person who feels as strongly and spiritually about this wine as I do. In an instant we became soul brothers. How incredible is life! As Sergio Esposito so eloquently stated when he autographed my copy of Passion on the Vine, “Richard, Wine is Love.”

Was wine just a beverage or did you always take it seriously?

To me, wine was never just a beverage and I always took wine seriously, to the extent that in 1989 some friends and I organized a guy’s wine tasting group in New Jersey.The group meets every Thursday night at a different BYOW restaurant for the purpose of wine/food pairing and to enjoy each other’scompany. Our group has met more than 1,000 times to date, and now numbers about thirty men. That’s taking wine seriously!

If you could change one thing about the wine industry what would it be?

Most restaurants know more about food than they do about wine, and the wine selection choices in many restaurants don’t compare to the quality of the foods presented to the customer. I would like to see the wine industry make a concerted effort to encourage restaurant owners to upgrade their wine lists, conduct wine/food dinner pairings, and permit customers to bring their own wine, even if it means the customer has to pay a corkage fee. If state laws or regulations need to be changed, so be it. The intended consequences will definitely be worth the effort!


3 Responses to “IWM Client Interview: Richard Reich”

  1. James Lockemy
    January 31st, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    What a great interview. Richard is definitely someone who not only knows about wine but also knows how to appreciate the beautiful experience of drinking wine.
    I know Richard and his lovely wife Dot and I can attest to the excitement that ensues when you have the good fortune to enjoy some of his wine with him. The discussion about the experience is almost as good as the wine. You notice I say almost because it is practically impossible in the state of South Carolina to find a wine collection that equals the treasure Richard has in Conway.
    Thanks for the interview and it makes me feel proud that I can call RIchard friend. I hope to get to New York soon and visit your wine shop and enjoy a tasting.

    James E. Lockemy

  2. Melissa Sutherland
    February 3rd, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    Hi James —

    Your comments remind us that wine — discovering, tasting, learning, collecting (core values at IWM) — is imbued with passion and is best enjoyed in the company of others. I too share the honor of having a friend in Bristol, VA who has an amazing cellar, shocking both for its location and its cache of Bordeaux going back 35 years. Good friends + good wines = imitable times.

  3. Star Grover
    February 8th, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

    Richard and his wife Dot have wowed me on more than one occasion, sharing their passion and love of wine with me and my husband. They are excellent teachers! Star Grover

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