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San Clemente Journal

The Place for Holiday Wines - Bob’s Fine Wines

Aug 01, 2010 09:15PM ● By Brian O

by Bill Koelzer

You can get wine almost anywhere, even in grocery stores. But when you want fine or rare wine - a particularly special wine - a wine that perfectly matches an occasion, like the upcoming holidays …where the word “taste” carries two meanings, you go to Bob’s Fine Wines in the Sears Shopping Center in north San Clemente.

Once you’re there, don’t waste time looking at labels on some of the thousands of bottles of wine you’ll see, comprising the most complete selection of fine wines in South Orange County. Instead, just tell Manager Rob Clanton what holiday food your wine will be served with or at what kind of affair it will be poured. He will know what you want. If you drink finer wines, chances are you have already visited Rob and tasted some of his rare vintages at the “Original Taste of San Clemente,” featuring dozens of restaurant and vintner samplings, dancing and music, at the beautiful Courtside Restaurant in November.

Bob takes pride in his pouring there. “We have two 8-foot tables. The first one pours wines $50 and under and this is complementary. The second table pours wine from six to twelve vineyards, all excellent, high-end California wines. Vintners often included are Spottswoode, Diamond Creek, Chateau Montelena, Dunn, Silver Oak, Lokoya, Etude, Sea Smoke, Caymus, Philip Togni, Joseph Phelps ‘Insignia,’ Dominus, Duckhorn and Heitz Cellar.

“From each vineyard, I choose two different years, I have one that’s an older vintage from five to twenty years old and then the one behind it is a current release from the same vineyard. For the finer wines, I pick different separations in years for each winery so I can ‘educate’ the consumer on how time softens the harsh tannins of a wine, allowing the rich creamy textures and subtleties of flavors to be exposed. “All those older vintage bottles on the table retail from $100 to $300 yet the public are paying only $7 for a two-ounce pour. I give people the taste of the newer vintages for free. So it’s an inexpensive way to taste some very expensive wines.”

Rob also offers tasting at the Casa Romantica, our city’s cultural center, during the annual “Toast to the Casa - An Evening of Elegance.” This October event features food by San Clemente’s finest restaurants, wine courtesy of 40 local wineries and distributors, dancing to live bands, fabulous auction items and more. Rob also does tastings at home parties, great idea for those holiday get togethers.

Unless the vintner or his broker actually brings in a bottle, opens it, and lets Rob taste it, he won’t stock a new wine. Known for his extremely well- developed palate, he says, “My dad, Bob Clanton, opened this store 40 years ago, and when I was age 10, he began to train my palate. It’s just gotten more refined each year and many vintners say that I can evaluate the worth of a wine in correlation to its price with precision accuracy.”

Rob recalls, “President Richard M. Nixon, when he lived at his Western White House in South San Clemente, used to come in here with his Secret Service guards and select fine wines to serve at home to guests from his private stock.

“One day President Nixon asked my dad to start carrying the Napa Valley’s Schramsberg champagne, which he felt was the best California champagne. When we told the Schramsberg winery that our client was Mr. Nixon, they began delivering their champagne way down here from Napa and they’d never delivered this far before. After that, President Nixon or one of his staff would routinely stop in for a case or two. (Writer’s note: Schramsberg became the first California champagne to be served in the White House. Today, Schramsberg makes some of the most expensive champagnes in the world-

“In the seventies, Rob reminisces, “Robert Mondovi himself used to come into the store and try to sell my father wine. Joe Heitz of Heitz Cellars used to come in himself, too. And so did Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, who’s USA-produced 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, a California and not a French wine, shocked the industry when it was selected in blind tastings by elite French judges as the finest white wine in the world.”

Rob lists three key differences between Bob’s Fine Wines and other wine stores:

1. “I taste everything before I buy, and I’m very selective about what I purchase. With this economy, most vineyards are discounting and we pass those savings along to the consumer, especially through our ‘recession buster’ aisle which offers rarities for under $50. Most wine stores don’t have our rare wine inventory or extensive “vertical” depth of each vineyard. They only have access to current releases. Ours is 75-80% highly allocated vintage wines from only top world producers. Moreover, we offer unique spirits, Belgian and micro ales, and specialty nostalgic sodas.”

2. “A lot of retailers buy wine from private parties or off the Internet or sell on consignment. We avoid that because who knows how the wines were stored prior to our ownership? Perhaps the biggest tiebreaker thing we do is to buy library releases from the winery and have them store the wine themselves in perfect climatic conditions until we place our order. Although we pay a premium for library releases, the vineyards store only the best of their vintages so we like to seize these opportunities and offer them to the consumer.”

3. “In many stores in the hot summer months, you can’t trust the wines due to the fact that wine is very fragile and even the slightest heat can cause damage. Sadly, most liquor stores and many wine stores do not climate control their facility. We do it all year around here and sure, it costs thousands of dollars more to keep our wines at cooler temperatures, but then we also give our clients a 100% guarantee that our wines are in excellent condition when purchased and if not, we’ll replace it. We want clients for life.”

Rob, who has a dual major in economics and organizational studies with a minor in accounting from Claremont college, Pomona, often works seven days a week at the store. Why? “I’m very passionate about wines. Wines are never boring or stagnant to me. That’s because every vintage from the same winery is the continuation of history in the making. Although man has mastered the micro management of the wine creating ‘process,’ he cannot control the temperament of nature. That is why each new vintage is characteristically unique, better, or worse from the prior year. “It’s all in the palate.”

Rob grins, “And I love to give my palate a good workout.”b