Michael Diamond, better known as Beastie Boy Mike D, is no wine dilettante. He has devoted a good part of the last 20 years of his life to tasting and learning about wine, and his knowledge is now legitimately vast. And for a man who can boast seven platinum albums, one of the longest careers in hip-hop, and an ability to speak professorially on Chablis harvests, he’s endearingly modest; frequent mentions are made to his good fortune at being able to try some of the world’s great wines, and to having friends who enjoy and have access to them. Over a series of delicious seafood dishes and a variety of whites at one of Mike’s favourite restaurants, Brooklyn’s Bergen Hill, he talked with Head of Christie’s Wine Department Per Holmberg about his life in wine.
Per Holmberg: Have you always been into wine?
Mike D: ‘I don’t have many regrets in life, at least I like to think I don’t, but one of them is that I didn’t get into wine sooner — although maybe I have more brain cells because of it! Part of that regret is, of course, the first time I went on tour in Europe was 1987; if I had only bought First Growths, I could have got all of 1982 and 1986 by the caseload, not to mention DRC — 1990 La Tâche maybe would have been 30 dollars.’
Back then, First Growths in New York as a future were around $4.25.
‘The other thing is that on tour, you develop these things to do that help you relate to where you are, so you’re not just in a theatre and a dressing room and hotel room and a van ride in between. Sometimes those things are eating, or going to museums; for me it was going hunting for records everywhere, ‘cause I was such a music geek. But wine would have been such a great way to really have a different understanding of where I was in the world.’
What was your wine evolution? What was the beginning?
‘I had the good fortune of having some friends that were into wine, and I went on a surf trip to Costa Rica with this group of friends including Dave Sokolin [of longtime New York wine merchants, Sokolin], who graciously supplied wine for the trip. So we went down to Costa Rica with a case of really great, assorted wines from Champagne to Burgundy — white Burgundies did really well in that tropical environment — even a 1993 or ‘94 Ridge Montebello that was mind-blowing, and I’m not really a cab person per se.’
‘In my opinion, anyone who has functioning senses has a valid opinion’
‘One day we did a flight of white wines that included a Chardonnay comparison. There was a Leflaive, a Marcassin Three Sisters, and I don’t remember what the other Burgundy was, but then of course I was bitten. When I came back, I was shocked to find the disparity in terms of where I felt the Marcassin was priced in comparison to, even with my uneducated palate, what I thought were very competitive wines from Burgundy, if not arguably superior. It was a great environment because you had the combination of guys who knew about wine and then surfers such as myself who didn’t know. I think that’s actually the best way to taste wine, where you have this combination of expertise and blank canvas. One of the unfortunate misconceptions with wine is that you have to have vast experience to have a valid opinion on it. There are certain qualities that come with experience, visiting terroir; there are layers of understanding, but anyone who actually has functioning senses in my opinion has a valid opinion.’
A lot of people like to think they don’t have a palate but once you start to taste wine, you realise what you like and don’t like and discover about your palate...
‘I feel like musicians — I extend that to all people who have a passion for music — have a predisposition that opens them up to wine, because ultimately we’ve spent all our lives sort of operating in the experiential realm and chasing these fleeting experiences, and that’s what wine is. The people who say, “All this grunge music or all this rap music sounds the same,” are the same people that might say, “I don’t care about wine, it all tastes the same.” Those statements are equally seated in ignorance.’
Burgundy is special, there’s no doubt about that. Once you get turned on to that style of winemaking — not so ripe and forward, and the harmony with the wood — it’s quite something…
‘I think there’s something to that, coming from any artistic temperament. For me, coming from a musician background, I immediately was drawn to the complexity of Burgundy. I mean there are great songs I love that are incredibly simple: Sucker M.C.'s by Run DMC, one of the best songs of all time; Wild Thing, one of the best songs of all time. I could go one and on, but there’s that complexity thing that happens in Burgundy. There’s that lack of uniformity, or almost like violently opposed takes between regions, as you get deeper into it you really see the expression that comes out in the making of the wines, and that to me is very analogous to the making of a record.’
A lot of winemakers — and especially smaller winemakers — they’re artists, there’s no doubt about it. Do you collect wine like you do records?
‘It’s funny, with wine I’m the same as with records. I have thousands of records (OK, I might have thousands of bottles of wine, I probably shouldn’t admit that!) — but it’s one of those things where I guess I’m never comfortable with the idea of collector because I feel like ‘collecting’ is ultimately that you have it to sell it, and it’s like you keep it in a glass case. I’m not comfortable with that with music, and I’m not comfortable with that with wine. Like tonight, I was going to stop home and pick up a bottle of Raveneau Chablis AC 2010. Both the Dauvissat and Raveneau ‘bottom tier’ wine, they’re wines that not only are really great, but you can drink them, you don’t have to put them in the glass case.’
'I feel like collecting means that you have to sell it. I'm not comfortable with that'
‘Restaurant-wise, I really like this place [Bergen Hill]; Chablis is just great with the food here. Michael Madrigale at Bar Boulud does a great job. There’s something to be said of how he does the big format bottles, it’s a great opportunity to taste glasses of wine that you would never otherwise get a chance to have by the glass. Another obvious one is Charlie Bird; Robert [Bohr] is a unique individual, who loves wine and hip hop. I feel like if he’d asked me to invest in Charlie Bird — “it’s gonna be loud hip hop and really great wine that you can’t find” – I would have been like, “I’m gonna go there all the time but I’m never investing ‘cause no one else is ever gonna go there.” But he is packed every night.’
What about your desert island bottles?
‘This is tough. They’re all gonna be super pretentious wines, but... 1973 DRC Montrachet, probably the best white wine on the planet. D’Yquem-wise, what is the vintage from the ‘30s, ’37? Bordeaux I would take ‘61 Latour, but I would also pick a really good vintage of Mission Haut-Brion and Cheval, I would probably take a bottle of [Chailler Clos Baron] and I’d probably have to take a bottle of La Tâche, but not sure what vintage.’
Of course, if you actually were stuck on a desert island, you’d have to figure out how to store them properly or risk being let down. Or maybe a bottle just wasn’t as good as you hoped it would be.
‘Of course, that’s part of it with wine — if you’re not disappointed sometimes, it’s not real. How often do you see a band and you’re disappointed, and then you see them and you‘re the opposite of disappointed? I’m more interested in the bands that I’ve seen be incredible and horrible, than the bands that are good every night.’