Julio Iglesias: My passion for wine
- Tuesday 3 August 2010
Julio Iglesias doesn’t do things by halves. During his 42-year music career, the Madrid-born singer has sold more than 300 million albums in 14 different languages, making him among the top 10 best-selling musicians in history. Earlier this year, the 66-year-old, who has reportedly slept with over 3,000 women, released album number 77, and he’s currently midway through a world tour – ‘It’s a great excuse to drink wines from different countries every night,’ he says, laughing.
His speech is littered with huge numbers – a million dollars here, 800 million pesetas there, and I quickly get the impression that Iglesias’ world is one in which money is no object. ‘I used to spend more than a million dollars a year on wine,’ he tells me, in a genuinely casual, rather than boastful way.
The singer has bought so much wine over the years that he seems to have lost count of how many bottles he has in his three cellars in Spain, Miami and the Dominican Republic. ‘I’ve got about 5,000 top wines and hundreds of thousands of normal wines,’ he admits, without hyperbole.
Generous with his plentiful stock, he gives away about 100 cases of wine to friends every year and thinks nothing of cracking open a bottle of Pétrus 1982 after a concert to share with his band. Isn’t it wasted on the uninitiated? ‘Not at all,’ he counters. ‘They’ve all become wine connoisseurs and have built cellars too. The vodka days are over!’
It was in the summer of ’82 that Iglesias tried to buy the acclaimed Ribera del Duero estate Vega Sicilia. ‘I was having dinner with friends in Madrid and it came up in conversation that Vega Sicilia was on the market for 800 million pesetas (around US$6m back then). I got on the phone to them the next morning, but it was too late.’ The winery had already been sold to a Venezuelan family, who went on to sell it to the Alvarez family, the current owners. ‘It wasn’t my lucky day, I guess,’ Iglesias says wistfully.
Vega Sicilia aside, he insists he’s not just a trophy collector – wine has shaped his outlook on life. ‘My understanding of life has become much stronger and clearer through my appreciation of wine,’ he says, describing spending those millions on wine in the ’80s as: ‘the best thing I ever did in my life’.
Brought up in Madrid in the 1950s by his doctor father, Iglesias got by in the early days by drinking ‘any old stuff from Valdepeñas’. In his late teens he played as a goalkeeper for Real Madrid football club, until a near fatal car accident in 1963 ended his sporting career. During his rehabilitation, to develop dexterity in his hands, he started playing the guitar and subsequently, writing music. The rest, as they say, is history.
Iglesias’ wine epiphany was equally notable. In 1973 he was invited by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild – a big Iglesias fan – to a dinner party at her home in Paris after one of his concerts. ‘She asked me what I thought of the wine and I told her that I’d never tasted anything like it,’ Iglesias recalls with brio. ‘She summoned the butler to serve a second wine, this time in a decanter, which I later learned was Lafite 1961. It was the first time in my life I’d felt a wine all the way down to my toes. It worked its magic through my body and made me realise that wine had a lot more mystery and history than I had first thought’.
The memory of the Lafite lingered, sending Iglesias on a lifelong wine journey. He began picking up the odd case in the countries he toured in – reds in France, whites in Germany – and got seriously into collecting in 1978, after building a 4,000-bottle cellar in the Miami home he shares with his second wife and their five children.
He grew his cellar by seeking out bargains at New York merchant Sherry Lehmann. ‘I was lucky, because in the late ’70s you could still get hold of great 1947s and 1961s. The ’75s were coming onto the market and I started spending a lot of money on Bordeaux, buying up all the Pauillac, Pomerol, Graves and Margaux I could get my hands on. Before you can appreciate great Burgundy, you’ve got to cut your teeth on good Bordeaux’.
Outside of France, Iglesias is a big fan of Spanish icon wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, particularly (perhaps still longingly) Vega Sicilia, as well as Pesquera, Pingus, Pago de Carrovejas and CVNE Imperial. ‘I’ve recently got much more interested in Spanish wines’, he tells me. ‘I love trying wines from lesser-known Spanish regions like Calatayud, Jumilla and Zamora’. He dips his toe in the New World via Australia, South Africa, California and Argentina, but his wine heartland is very much Bordeaux and Burgundy.
‘My latest obsession is Pinot Noir,’ he tells me excitedly. ‘Romanée-Conti from a good year is absolutely unforgettable. When made well it’s so approachable young. You don’t have to wait for it, which is great, because I don’t have too much time.’