By Charity Anais
Photographs by Christine Krieg
Former Van Halen front man Sammy Hagar’s passion for tequila is obvious: he founded Cabo Wabo Tequila, but few know that his tastes extend beyond Mexico’s borders and into the realm of fine wine. Introduced to wine in the 70’s with a 1927 Martinez Port, and a Sauternes pulled from a wine cellar made of grass clippings, the Red Rocker has since amassed a cellar of over 10,000 wines.
Charity Anais: What was your first experience with fine wine?
Sammy Hagar: It was an awesome, awesome experience. My son had a preschool teacher from England, who had moved back there when I was touring in 1976. She heard I was there and invited me to dinner. Her husband’s wine cellar was out in the back of their garden, in an old shed, where he piled the lawn clippings. He stored his wine in the clippings and knew where everything was. He’d reach in there and say ‘I’ll find this bloody sauterne,’ and he’d pull out a bottle and sure enough he’d have a sauternes. We had if for desert and it was mind blowing. When I came back to California I went up to Mondavi and bought a case of 1973 Reserve Cabernet and started my wine collection.
CA: Do you consider yourself a collector or a drinker?
SH: Oh a drinker, I wouldn’t collect for anything. I have never sold a bottle of wine in life. As serious as I am about wine, because I really am, I do like the fun side of it.
CA: Is it fun making tequila?
SH: Hell yeah man, it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
CA: Have you thought about making wine?
SH: Yeah, but I wouldn’t ever want to do anything that’s inferior. Winemaking has come to a fine science. Tequila is not a fine science. It’s simple.
CA: Do you like to pair food with tequila?
SH: I like tequila with steaming hot appetizers. You can’t drink much more than margarita or straight tequila with really hot chili peppers. When the heat just wipes your palate out, which I love, you can’t drink wine with that.
CA: What did you drink last night?
SH: I had a 2001 Sangiovese; I brought it back from Italy when I was over there last year. It was awesome with dinner. We had Tuscan fried chicken, which is something I just discovered. You take a couple big sprigs of rosemary, you take a handful of thyme a couple bay leaves, a whole clove of garlic and you put it all in peanut oil. You cook that chicken up for about twenty minutes until it’s crispy and just killin’. It was slammin’ with that Chianti. I hit it so hard that I was bragging the whole night and ruined dinner for the rest of my family.
CA: What do you drink to celebrate?
SH: I celebrate every night in my own way. I have a wonderful wine cellar; it’s stocked with everything. I pull out great bottles of wine nightly–Romanee-Conti, you just can’t beat any of them. Anything that comes out of that region is so special and it may not be worth the price difference, but there is a difference. Montrachets are great but I’m more of a Batard-Montrachet kind of guy.
CA: You go straight for the Grand Crus, don’t you?
SH: Once you’ve had them, what are you going to do, go backwards?
Charity Anais is a sommelier and wine and travel writer. Though based in San Francisco she spends much of the year traveling to distant wine regions, or anywhere that has good food.