Mark Weiss is best known as a dealer in Old Master portraiture, but he also harbours a not-so-secret identity as a long-term collector of Burgundy wines, some of which are kept in a specialist store in at The Weiss Gallery, his space in St James’s, London.
How did you get started in wine collecting?
I’ve always had a taste for wine. While I was growing up with my parents, we would drink wine with dinner at the weekend and my father’s interest led him to put together a small but interesting cellar. As with my two siblings, after we all left home we each became passionate cooks and for my part, my interest in wine seriously began them. At first it was in a small way with Italian or New World wines for around five to ten pounds a bottle.
Then about 30 years ago I was given a bottle of white Burgundy – not a particularly grand one, but I had a nirvana moment and decided “this is what I need to be drinking from now on”. So, after some research to identify the very best, I bought a couple of cases of great 1985 white Burgundy from Domaine Leflaive at Christie’s, and my collecting took off from there.
How big is your collection?
At its peak it was around 16,000 bottles. Now it’s something over 10,000. Roughly 85% of that is Burgundy, and though I started with whites, I soon decided to collect reds too, and that’s the bulk of the collection now. I also have some great champagnes and a good selection of red Rhones and whites from the Loire, and some top Californian reds. It is mostly stored professionally, but I also keep about 1500 bottles in a dedicated wine room in my Jermyn Street gallery, as well as around 1000 at our house in France.
What made Burgundy a good candidate for collecting?
When I started collecting it was less understood and appreciated than it is now. It was certainly more affordable and the finest examples were readily available. I was very lucky because for most of the period I was buying it was widely considered too ‘complicated’. There was also the thought that Burgundy was ‘fragile’ and that it needed to be drunk by the time it was eight years old, which is certainly not the case.
Are you still building up your collection?
No. Top Burgundy has become far too expensive and I stopped buying when the release prices started to rise too high. Whereas once I could buy by the case, now allocations are by the bottle.
I’ve always enjoyed a bit of wheeling and dealing in wine and have sold a great deal of wine over the years either to the wine trade or by auction. I naturally drink bottles from my collection… not every night – I am trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. But usually when I drink wine, I drink Burgundy.
What advice would you have for collectors starting out?
If we’re talking about Burgundy the horse has really bolted in terms of price and accessibility. I suggest new buyers take specialist advice on who are the up-and-coming younger growers.
There are so many great wines being produced all over the world today. The critical thing with wine is making sure you have the correct storage, especially if you’re buying bottles to lay them down – then you need a proper professional storage facility. The other thing is patience. Drinking a really great wine when it’s too young is really infanticide.
How has this collecting habit worked alongside a career as a paintings dealer?
I’ve never really collected the paintings that I deal in. However, I’ve been able to satisfy my collecting urge through wine.
It has also been a useful calling card. I have been able to imbue my passion into several of my best clients and it has become a shared interest. We’ve always done grand dinners in the gallery and for which I have always served my great wines, so the two have worked together quite well.
Would you say your palate is more developed than most?
I’ve been involved with tasting groups and so am familiar with wines from all over the world. I have no claims to have a great palate, but I have a good one. At a certain point qualitive judgements become a bit like hi-fi systems – can most people really tell the difference between a £1000 system and a £30,000 system?
What are your ‘desert island wines’?
For a potential ‘ultimate dinner’, I would select to drink from my gallery cellar a bottle each of an incredibly great and legendary champagne, 1982 Krug, and two sensational Grand Cru Burgundies, the white a 1996 Chevalier-Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive, and the red a 1990 Clos de la Roche from Domaine Dujac, but to round the meal off I would also want a dessert wine, the 1988 Chateau Climens, which in this vintage rivals Chateau Yquem.