If you missed my article about the late Roger Gentile in Stock and Barrel, I’d suggest you read it -> HERE, before you proceed.
S.W.A.T. stands for Secret Wine Appreciation Tastings. These were outings by a small number of friends that traveled to the best wine regions of the world to learn about wines and stockpile the best of them. This small cadre of gentlemen was composed of the Who’s Who of Columbus’ upper echelon with the means to live large while expanding their collections. However, this was no collection of rat pack style playboys, this group was one and all, on a mission to do some good with their good fortune. For years, they have taken some of the best of their collections to make dream packages for auctions to support charities such as Recreation Unlimited. This group has largely chosen to remain in the shadows and well….secret. I’ll keep their identities classified but I will offer a small insight into what they do.
This group periodically gets together to share the company of each other, an excellent meal and too many bottles of wine to count. I was given the great honor to attend one of these lunches, the first after the passing of Roger, as a thank you for writing about the group’s defacto leader, heart, soul and chief instigator.
The group met at Worthington Inn for lunch. Lunch was of course, excellent. Each member brought a guest with them (typically new potential member) and some of their best wines. In my invitation I was advised to “make sure I had a way to get home after, just in case.” While I did not partake to that extreme, I did indeed have wines that I have never had and most likely will never sip again. Of the 50+ bottles on the table I spied a bottle from at least 20 countries with price tags greater than what I earn in a week, maybe a month in a few instances. The oldest bottle of wine was from 1974 the youngest was not from this decade. Each had a story of being a rarity, a tale of how it was obtained, or an epic on how it was “stolen” at auction.
In the past I have judged wines for competitions and poured wines at festivals but I never saw an array of alcohols of this caliber. However, my second favorite memory of this time involved a wine encased in tin foil to hide its identity. The experts around the table were asked to guess where the wine hailed from. After tasting, smelling and swirling there was no consensus. Guesses ranged from a specific region of France to a specific Napa Valley Vineyard. The man who poured this sample for everyone was a man who has hosted and supported this group over many, many years, Kamal Boulos from the Refectory. I was able to see the glint in his eye and a trace of a smile as he unveiled the bottle which was from none other than Ravenhurst from Mt. Victory Ohio!
My favorite memory of this meal was witnessing this fellowship of a group of old friends as we made a Toast to Roger Gentile, the leader of the pack. Roger made his mark with these fellas and they continue their work for charity so that his spirit will live on in their efforts.