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THE COLLECTORS : Joseph Perrulli: "I Am Not a Collector"

July 14, 1994|DAN BERGER

Joseph Perrulli doesn't call himself a wine collector, but he shows most of the symptoms. No matter what he says, you may be forgiven for suspecting that he's already started down the slippery slope to collectordom.

He loves wine with a passion and doesn't mind spending a good deal of money on a great bottle. He reads about great wines and great vintages. He chats with merchants about wine; he attends wine tastings and gourmet dinners featuring winemakers. He just doesn't buy as much wine as a full-fledged collector would--so far he has limited himself to six cases.

Perrulli, 33, is a handsome, lean-faced actor in television commercials. On his salary, he says, he can't afford to buy whole cases of top-growth Bordeaux. That's one reason his collection, despite his love for fine wine, is still closet-sized. There are very few duplicates; single bottles are the norm.

But there's another reason. "I really got into wine because of a man I call my surrogate father, Bill Fava," he says. Fava, a Los Angeles marketer of women's swimwear who befriended Perrulli nine years ago, had inherited a collection of wine from a dead friend, and Perrulli and Fava often would open a bottle and toast the deceased. "Bill usually would just about cry that Arthur, who had collected all these great old wines, died before he could enjoy them," he says.

The experience forged a determination in Perrulli not to let that happen to him. Recently, for instance, he discovered a great 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon from Silverado Vineyards. He bought a half case of the wine and promptly drank it all up with friends. (However, when he wanted to get more of that wine, he found it was sold out.)

Perulli's girl friend, Caroline Leadon, an excellent cook, coordinates dinners that are aimed at matching wine with food. And they drink great wine without worrying whether it will improve with time.

Sipping a glass of rose at Campanile, Perrulli says he likes to find esoteric wines that can be tasty and intriguing, wines that offer a perspective different from "just another Chardonnay." He's been bitten by the collecting bug in at least one respect: Like many collectors, he goes crazy over getting his hands on rare, limited bottlings. "I have been known to drive all the way across town for a single bottle," he says.

"But I don't keep them. I drink them," Perrulli says. He likes to open a bottle for special occasions, even if that is just sitting on a patio after dinner watching a sunset from Leadon's Pacific Palisades home.

"Actually, we're fairly capricious about this," he says.

"We'll go the extra mile for a great wine. But we're prepared to open any bottle on a whim, because we love drinking it more than just keeping it," says Leadon.

Perrulli, who buys mainly from fine wine shops, acknowledges that his collection has almost doubled in the last year. Consequently, though he says he's not a "wine collector," he admits that the advice he gets from his visits to fine wine shops has created more enthusiasm than even he realized.

"It's also nice that we have a cool spot under the house to keep the wine," he says.

Perrulli and Leadon occasionally hold what they call Stash Night with close friends: Each dinner guest must bring a special bottle from his or her stash.

So it depletes the cellar. "It's the way we live," Petrulli says.

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