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Magnificent Voss

One of Norway’s largest wine collections is found in a hotel cellar in Voss. It is so impressive that it has secured its owner a reputation far beyond Norway’s borders.

You are probably aware that little Voss has a lot to offer the world. Top alpine athletes, extreme sports activities, a jazz festival and scorched sheep’s heads. And it’s probably someone from Voss who keeps reminding you of these facts. If you don’t know anyone from Voss yourself, it is impossible not to come across them on the TV screen or on the radio; they’re everywhere and they won’t stop talking about how great Voss is. The thing that some people think is the very greatest thing about Voss is, for some reason or another, rarely mentioned. It’s simply there. In Vossevangen, the heart of the town, one of Norway’s biggest and best wine collections well hidden in a cool hotel cellar.

Quantity

There are so many bottles here that Park Hotel’s sommelier Merete Bø lost count long ago. ‘The ordinary wine list contains 600 different wines. This is the list we give most of our guests when they ask to see the wine list. But that is the short wine list,’ she says with a sly smile.

There is another list. The complete one. The award-winning one. And at 130 pages, it is bigger than the phonebook for Voss, and a far more interesting read.

‘If we had automatically given this one to our guests, they would be shocked. Most people find it difficult to choose between a French or a Chilean wine, and here we have thousands of bottles from France alone,’ she laughs.

‘I think we have somewhere between 40 and 50,000 bottles,’ hotel director Jan Bruse Andersen tells us, as he opens the padlock to the cellar that has been awarded the prestigious Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator every year since 1996.

Not much room

Earlier this year, the cellar was also awarded the title Norway’s biggest wine list, at the online magazine Apéritif’s annual announcement of Norway’s best wine list and bar list. ‘It’s not just the size that makes this wine list unique, but also the prices,’ the jury stated in its assessment, and went on to say that the wine list probably qualifies as Northern Europe’s most reasonable.

It’s difficult to describe what we see as we walk through the wine cellar, but there are bottles everywhere. In boxes, in stacks, in baskets and in small piles along the walls. Some bottles are standing, others are on their side and some are upside down. They’re everywhere. Although we’re underground, our thoughts ascend – so this is what wine heaven looks like. There are more than 500 different Burgundy wines. Red Burgundies, I mean; there are also the white Burgundies Andersen specialises in (including a collection of more than 200 different Chablis-Cuvées), even more Bordeaux wines and all the other wines from France, in addition to huge quantities of German, Spanish, Italian, American and Australian wines.

‘We started tentatively in 1982. We were planning the opening of Restaurant Elysée, and wanted our guests to enjoy really good wines. Back then, we bought a couple of bottles of each sort, but then we regretted that we hadn’t bought more. So the next time, we bought 12 bottles, followed by 24 the year after, and now, as you can see, we don’t have enough room,’ Bruse Andersen tells us.

So little room, in fact, that bottles are lying on the floor, too. You make your way between the rooms in the cellar on a path through piles of wine bottles. When the hotel director squeezes past, we lose our balance and almost stand on a bottle of Montrachet by Marc Colin (99 points in Wine Spectator), and then grasp immediately onto the edge of a shelf thinking we’ve saved the situation, only to realise that a bottle of Dom Perignon 1988 – original one of the greatest champagne vintages ever (93 points) – is just a few centimetres from our finger tips, casually lying horizontally on the far edge of the shelf, only prevented from falling a metre onto the cellar floor by a slim peg.
‘That’s my favourite champagne. A great, powerful wine. I bought as much as I could get hold of back then,’ Andersen tells us.
‘That means all the bottles left in the shop: around 60 magnum bottles.’

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Gems

His main interest is the classic wines, and although he has gradually collected a huge selection of Italian wines etc., France still dominates the collection.
‘Yes, we have a lot of French wines, and we’re also fortunate enough to have many of the great classic wines. We have vintages of Margaux, Haut Brion, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild from throughout the 1980s.’

Legendary chateaux and legendary wines. ‘We also have a good selection of Burgundy wines; there were several good Burgundy vintages in the 1990s. Few restaurants recognise the value of having an abundant wine cellar,’ says the hotel director, ‘but why not? This is our profession, so we should naturally do it properly.’

Every year, he buys bottles from producers all over the world, many of them so famous that it can almost be considered a miracle that they even consider sending their bottles to Voss.
‘The problem is you can’t buy what you want. Production is microscopic. Marc Colin’s white Burgundy is a good example: He only makes around 50 boxes of his famous Montrachet wine a year. A whole world of buyers and wine collectors, such as famous restaurants, top chefs, millionaires and Hollywood stars, want this wine, but only a few people get to buy it,’ he says, looking thoughtful, before pausing and adding: ‘We get a box every year.’

‘Why?’ We’ve been there and met the man,’ says Bruse Andersen. ‘There are a lot of snobs in the wine world, but we ask and dig around a bit, which is why we’re well received. We’re genuinely interested.’
In addition to Colin, he also has annual deals with producers such as Leflaive, Grivot, and maybe the best known of all of them: Domaine Romanée-Conti.
‘We also get a box from them every year. I mainly buy it for the sake of the wine list.’

Bargains

But it is not only Bruse Andersen’s huge variety that has made his cellar famous; the low prices he charges are also noteworthy. Many connoisseurs believe that there are bargains to be had here, because Andersen does not multiply the purchase price by three or four like a lot of other people do.
‘No, we think it’s important that more people should be able to enjoy these fine wines. I remember I bought a Le Pin 1988 for NOK 1,000 …I think we added a mark-up of NOK 200, just for fun, really.’
If you actually manage to find it anywhere now, you’ll have to pay at least NOK 15,000, but you can enjoy this legendary bottle (95 points from Wine Spectator) for NOK 3,500 at Park. ‘It’s not exactly cheap, but it’s very reasonable for this bottle,’ he says.

This was also what a Belgian wine collector thought, who immediately rushed to his car and drove to Voss when he heard about the prices. He wanted to buy all the bottles and take them back to his collection, but was told in no uncertain terms that he had to consume them on site. It must have been a long drive back to Brussels.

‘I could of course go to London and sell and make ten to fifteen times what I paid for the wine, but that’s not the way we want to make money. People who enjoy drinking really good wine shall be able to do so here at a reasonable price. But we also have a lot of good offers in the NOK 400 to 500 category, and our house wine is always quality wines.’

And Park Hotel’s guests can appreciate this, since, as a guest, you may well be served real gems when you order the house wine: ‘Sometimes, we want to get rid of bottles to make space for other wines on the shelves,’ he says, and tells us about the guests who enjoyed a pleasant evening when they were served a Chateau Verdignan 1985 as the house wine at NOK 50 a glass not long ago.

Moderate

Andersen himself enjoys a glass of wine on a regular basis, but claims he rarely opens any of the cellar’s real gems.
‘I don’t drink Romaneé-Conti every day, but on the odd occasion, you give in to the temptation.’
‘Is there money in it? Are the people of Voss good at taking advantage of this cellar?’
‘Well, the locals prefer beer, but some guests choose our hotel because of the wine. Some guests come here for the wine alone.’

And they don’t regret it; the bottles are quick to empty when Andersen holds wine courses, there’s no holding back on the good stuff here. ‘We’re not known for being mean,’ he says ‘Letting really good wine go a little to your head is wonderful. Extreme sport? Hmm, maybe, but unlike skydiving, which is a lot more expensive than wine tasting at Park, you don’t fall to the ground – on the contrary, most people float out the door.’

Vossevangen Park Hotel’s wine offer
  • 40–50,000 bottles and a couple of thousand brands
  • More than 800 different white Burgundy wines, including 200 Chablis.
  • The most expensive wine: Romanée-Conti by Romanée Conti at NOK 12,500
  • Good offers: Ch. Pichon Lalande 1983 at NOK 995, and six different vintages of Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos by Louis Michel at NOK 495.
  • You can find wines in the ‘bargain bin’ in the NOK 500–600 category (such as Barolo, Brunello, Châteauneuf-du-Pape etc.) for NOK 375.

Text: Marius Mørk

Photo: Thor Brødreskift

13 January 2004  – Aperitif