Lee Lumber president Rick Baumgarten may hail from the City of Big Shoulders, but it's his nose that makes him unusual among LBM executives. That's because he's trained it to sniff out some of the world's finest wines, which he rates regularly on www.cellartracker.com.
Using the nom de plume of "Grapist," Baumgarten says a lot in a few words. Of a 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape that retails for $35 a bottle, he declared: "Barnyard funk did not go away." In another review, he said a 2004 Barolo was "Either too young or just not a lot going on." But of a 1989 Chateau Leoville-Barton, the Chicago dealer raved: "After just a few minutes in the glass, the funk blew off and this became most everything you could want in a mature Bordeaux. Elegant, heady, complex. Long, velvety finish. Yum."
Baumgarten says he first became interested in finer wines not long after getting married 40 years ago. Today he keeps more than 1,000 bottles in temperature-controlled comfort in two rooms in his basement. Baumgarten says the best way to get involved in wine is simply to start drinking it, learn what you like, learn how to describe what you like, and then pass along those preferences to someone at a decent wine store who can help you find more of what tastes good.
"But even more important than that is to get a book or go to a class and learn how to read a label," he says. "Labels are different from different parts of the world. People may think it doesn't say anything, but it says a lot. If it says California Merlot, it can be grapes grown from anywhere. If it says Napa Valley, it's grapes only from Napa. If it says Napa Valley Yountville, it's more specific. And typically with California wines, the more specific, the better you are. So if you see two wines for $22 and one is single vineyard and the other says California, hey, come on."
What's he drinking now? "For the summer, what we drink the most of is $10 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc," he says. "Easy to drink, refreshing. I probably chill it a bit much. My wife calls it her summer lemonade."