Wine: Hollywood and Vine

The real stars of scandia—the restaurant that joined the ranks of the Brown Derby, Chasen’s, Perino’s, and the Mocambo as a legendary “Old Hollywood” hot spot in the mid-1950s—were not the luminous regulars such as Gable, Bogart, Crosby, and Stewart, but subtler, more patient occupants with such names as Mouton, Latour, Heitz, and Montelena. The test of stardom, after all, is staying power, and while the former crowd has faded from the limelight, the latter has never been more resplendently in it.

The magnificent Scandia collection of over 30,000 bottles of top-grade French and California wines has been caringly deposited in temperature-controlled storage, gathering a healthy layer of cobwebs since 1989, when owner Robert Petersen closed Scandia. His decision to sell the wine is significant not only to nostalgic epicures in Southern California, but also to the famed New York wine company Zachy’s. The firm—which recently split from partner Christie’s—joins the ranks of solo auction houses with this unique offering.

While it gained fame for its great food, Scandia quietly amassed over the decades the first important wine cellar on the West Coast. Notable for its emphasis on only the best vintages of top French Bordeaux and Burgundy and for its early patronage of California wine, the cellar is largely the achievement of Nate Chroman, a lawyer and wine enthusiast. Chroman took lunch at Scandia every Friday from 1956 onward, becoming fast friends, first with founding owner Ken Hansen and later (when Hansen sold) with new owner Petersen. Hansen allowed Chroman to guide the stocking of the cellar, which he was only too pleased to do. “I went nuts, and bought whatever I damned well pleased,” says Chroman. “And I would buy only good vintages. And then lots of them.”

Zachy’s Jeff Zacharia concurs, adding, “Not only were there incredible wines in that collection, but there was so much of it. I mean, 14 cases of ’70 Latour, five cases of Heitz Cabernet, 12 cases of Léoville 1966, 20 of Léoville 1970, 11 of Mayacamas ’82, 25 cases of Mouton 1975. The sheer volume was incredible.”

The cellar, however, will not remain intact much longer. Parceled out over five separate sales (the first was on October 25 and 26 of last year and the next will be held on February 7 and 8), the auctions will all be located in Manhattan in the private dining room of the celebrated restaurant Daniel, accompanied by haute cuisine and fine wine to whet bidders’ appetites. The unorthodox venue underscores Zachy’s new philosophy of business, which led to the firm’s break with Christie’s—namely, to replace the staid and stately ceremonies typical of most auctions with genuine fun.

Zachy’s approach certainly should appeal to oenophiles, for whom the opportunity to raise the paddle on such rare pleasures as a vintage Château Mouton-Rothschild in the plush surroundings of Daniel is irresistible. The greatest challenge for aficionados of the vine will be not only to select from among the 1966, ’70, ’73, ’75, ’78, ’79, ’81, and ’85 vintages, but also to wrest from other keen collectors the lot of their choosing. Bidding should be spirited: Twelve bottles of the ’82 Mouton went for $5,800 at the inaugural auction in October. But for those who do manage to acquire some of the coveted Scandia wine, Petersen, who owned the cellar for 24 years, has some advice. “Don’t save it,” he cautions. “I could kick myself. I really should have drunk more of it.”

Zachy’s, (800.723.0241, www.zachys.com)

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