Trade wine tastings generally are pretty said affairs. That wasn't the case last Thursday evening as Robert Haas conducted a showcase of wines he distributes. Some innovative pairings, Haas' candor and knowledge and the wines themselves all contributed to the up mood and to a sense of occasion.
When Harry Seal of Ace Beverage, the dean of local wine retailers, stood to commend Haas and his associates, it wasn't just a ritual tribute. There had been burgundies of great style for the traditionalists, wines from modern wineries in Oregon, California and Spain for those curious about new horizons and -- as a finale -- four sweet white wines, one each from Germany and California and two from France. s
Broad representation is something wine importers are striving for these days. But Haas, through his Robert Haas Selections, is not just looking for names or numbers or bargains. He is a genuine romantic, a man who conducts his wine business from Vermont instead of New York city, who still delights in "taking a week out of my life driving from door to door (in Burgundy or Alsace) in hopes of finding the damned best stuff I've ever tasted.
"It's difficult today," he continued,"but its's possible to find wines that are authentic, that have the true character and personality of the grape and the region. When you do it's positively rejuvenating."
Haas, who has been portrayed as something of a Don Quixote, following the dictates of his own taste rather than those of commercial wisdom, weathered a period when bookkeepers threatened to take over the wine trade. These days, with consumers more curious and more self-assured and with a few romantic merchants to be found, he is able to buy -- and sell -- the wines his palate tells him to buy. Some of them are very expensive, because of what they are and what they cost, not because of outrageous markups. Others, he says proudly, are great bargains.
Among the latter is Marques de Caceres. Anyone who has heard the radio commercial for these Spanish wines, which is an intelligent -- even intellectual -- discussion totally free of hype or clicking castanets, will understand something of Bob Haas. He wrote and produced them. "I haven't changed my ideas in 25 years," Haas said after the tasting. "I think the consumer has a lot more sense than he is given credit for."
Haas recounted his first buying trip to Burgundy, in the early 1950s, when fine burgundy was selling there for 5 francs a bottle and one could afford to learn through trial and a few errors. But he wasn't new to the trade. His father obtained New York State license number 12 after Prohibition ended in 1933 and made M. Lehnam into a prime retailer. Now Haas' son, Danny, is selling his father's wines in this area, carrying the business into a third generation.
Europeans like that. They also like a man whose face doesn't fall when he learns there are only 50 cases of a fine Corton Charlemagne for sale. "There are only two conditions," the producer said. "pay me a lot and pay me now." Haas did.
That white wine, from the 1978 vintage, was one of the star's of last Thursday's show. It won't be sold in Washington, nor can one expect to find any longer the ravishing 1971 red Corton Bressands or a well balanced 1976 Santenay by Bachelet. Some that are or will be available, however, are a truly distinguished 1978 Pouilly Fume from Gourdy (about $12); the red Cru de Coudoulet of 1978, a rich, very promising Cotes du Rome not yet in local stores and its famous relation, the 1972 red Chateau de Beaucastel from Chateauneuf de Pape (about $12.50); the aforementioned Marquis de Caceres ($3.50 to $4) and a beautifully balanced Zeltinger-Himmelreich 1975 Auslese ($10), a Mosel from C. H. Berres Erben.