A cursory scan of the London wine cellar of Marcus Margulies, owner of Bond Street watch store Marcus, is more than enough to determine that its owner is a discerning collector. And it’s not the first growths that give the game away, but the expertly chosen super seconds, super Tuscans, barolos, burgundies, ports and sauternes. Not to mention, some of the greatest prestige cuvée champagnes ever made.
What’s most impressive about this highly personal selection, though, is that it contains the best producers and the best vintages. There’s not a single dud to be seen.
Yet it is not far into the interview when it becomes clear that the relationship between the collector Margulies and his “consultant”, the award-winning Italian winemaker Silvia Imparato, is not quite your usual collector/dealer relationship.
Imparato points out that she doesn’t actually give Margulies advice on what wines to buy for his cellar. “He doesn’t need it. What I like and admire about Marcus is that he has always been extremely knowledgeable, curious and confident about wine. He genuinely loves it, which is why I think he understands it so well. As you saw from his cellar, he very much has his own taste. So there has never been a formal or commercial consultancy arrangement between us,” Imparato explains. “Instead, we are copains in gastronomy, which is much more personal and interesting. All I really do is help him explore his passion for wine and food.”
“Silvia is being far too modest and self-effacing,” interjects Margulies. “However, she’s right that I don’t really want a wine consultant because, at my age, I don’t need people to tell me how to live. If that’s the case, then I have wasted the first 70 years of my life.
“One of the many things I value about Silvia is her unique ability to give me expert advice on exciting new wines, rather than the great classics, which we are both familiar with. So she shows me wines that I would never come across. These are the wines I want to learn about and taste. And without question, Silvia is the best and most brilliant taster and teacher.”
The pair met more than 20 years ago at an exclusive Ornellaia tasting in a Sorrento restaurant, not far from Imparato’s Campanian wine estate, Azienda Agricola Montevetrano. “We discovered that we had a lot more in common than a mutual love of wine, food and the Amalfi Coast,” says Imparato. Hence their firm and enduring friendship.
They have shared some remarkable voyages of vinous discovery. “The trips we make together are about pleasure or divertimento,” says Imparato. “The objective is to eat and drink the best, learn, have fun and enjoy each other’s company.”
They eschew three-star temples of gastronomy. “We’re not interested in superficial Michelin flim-flam,” says Margulies. “We look for the great family-run restaurants, where food and wine are served with soul, passion and authenticity. Silvia unerringly knows where to go.”
Particular favourites are Masuelli (famous for its tripe soup) and Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan. Another is dal Pescatore Santini, north of Parma. “We went there on my birthday and ended up in the kitchen with all the family singing happy birthday to me,” recalls Margulies. “It was so touching – I was in tears.”
Once, when Margulies needed a table at El Bulli, Imparato secured it after just one call to her friend, Ferran Adrià. “That’s how well-connected she is,” he adds.
Margulies first learnt about wine through his father, who instructed him in great German Riesling, which he mostly acquired from OW Loeb. However, he is largely self‑taught when it comes to his greatest passions of bordeaux and champagne. “Most of my cellar came from Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London, when prices weren’t as silly as they are now.
“I only drink my best bottles with very dear friends who are going to appreciate them, including, of course, Silvia. Whenever she comes to London, one of the first things I think of is what am I going to open. Because, for me, the real pleasure of great wine is sharing it with people I love.”
“He is always so hedonistic and generous, you wouldn’t believe it,” says Imparato. “The last time I was here, he opened a Krug 85 and bottles of 1990 Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. It was so typically Marcus.”
Today, a Krug 1985 retails at £390 per bottle retail at Hedonism Wines, while a case of 12 bottles of Haut-Brion 1990 is worth about £8,000-£10,000, and a similar case of La Mission Haut-Brion (1989) would be about £7,000-£9,000.
One of the few wines that Margulies continues to buy year in year out is Imparato’s Montevetrano, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Aglianico. Naturally, he has also visited the estate many times and knows the wine well.
“But I don’t drink it because of our friendship. I drink it because of its exceptional quality and value. To me, it is a true vin de plaisir, which ages beautifully, not unlike the great French wines,” he says. “And by the way, I’m not alone in my opinion. Robert Parker thinks the same and famously described Montevetrano as ‘the Sassicaia of the south’.”
Like all genuine aficionados, Margulies doesn’t mind admitting that there are gaps in his wine education. “In particular, I would love to learn more about buying burgundy from Silvia. I am humbled by how knowledgeable she is on the subject.”
How often do they see each other? “Whenever our schedules permit,” says Imparato. They also talk a lot on the phone. “Sometimes, it’s not for a couple of weeks, then we might speak two or three times on the same day.”
Meeting the two of them together, it is abundantly clear that there is genuine mutual respect and affection. “Looking back, it was never a consultant-client relationship,” he adds. “From day one, it was a very pure and platonic friendship with me wanting to profit from somebody who has forgotten more about fine wine than I will ever know.”