Andre de Carteret is the wine and spirits manager at Spencer’s Restaurant, home to one of the most expansive wine lists in the desert.
With 1,052 wines on the list, the Palm Springs restaurant is a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner. While the list has an emphasis on California cabernet and chardonnay (the “bread and butter,” as de Carteret puts it), every major wine-growing region is represented—and there are wines in the cellar that aren’t even on the list
“I’m always looking for room,” says de Carteret.
De Carteret hails from Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, under the authority of the British crown. At 16, he joined the British Armed Forces and trained in mountain and arctic warfare. From there, he taught and skied professionally—a career which brought him to the United States in 1982. He also worked in restaurants during his ski-racing career, and later started working in restaurants full-time. Before Spencer’s, he worked at restaurants in Reno, Lake Tahoe and elsewhere in the Coachella Valley, including La Spiga, Morgan’s in the Desert at the La Quinta Resort, and Fleming’s.
We sipped My Essential Rosé while we talked Spencer’s, wine and desert living.
When did you first become interested in wine?
Late in the 1980s, I was teaching skiing in Courchevel, France. I had a very, very, wealthy clientele who had incredible collections of Burgundy and Bordeaux. One of my clients would come back one week every month to ski with me, and we’d go to restaurants every night, and when he walked in, it seemed like everybody bowed down to him. He would buy all these incredible wines, and I started tasting them, and I would think, “Wow.” … In the ’80s, it was basically white, red and pink in restaurants. If you had six wines by the glass, that was a huge list. During that time, I drank all these incredible wines that I would never, ever, ever otherwise have a chance to touch: Hermitage, Romanée-Conti—you name it. That was my introduction.
What was your first wine love?
What brought you to the desert?
I was a big tennis fan; I used to come for the tennis tournament. In 2007, I wanted a change, so I decided to move to Palm Springs.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I get a kick out of turning people on to something they may never have tried. When somebody comes back and says, “I remember you. You sold us a bottle of wine; it was amazing! What else do you have?” I get a kick out of that. I also like it when people come back for different vintages of the same wines; we have a lot of customers like that. (I also like) showing people the gems on the list, the good-value wine.
What wines are you loving on your list right now?
My favorite wines probably at the moment, and some of the best values, are the interesting reds: Paso Robles, Central Coast, Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara. Some phenomenal values come out of that area. There is great value if you want to experiment with different varietals.
What are you drinking now?
Beer (laughs). Right now, I’m drinking A Tribute to Grace Grenache. Lovely. I also love the Gruet Sparkling Rosé, which we serve by the glass.
Your desert island wine?
Russian River pinot, probably Merry Edwards Pinot Noir. I like the Merry Edwards a lot.
I have so many favorite pairings: Sauternes and foie gras. Port and California artisanal cheese. Zinfandel and chocolate. Oysters and sauvignon blanc. Champagne and anything.
Your favorite wine book?
Windows on the World. That was probably the first wine book I picked up. And my go-to is The Wine Bible.
What’s your favorite thing about living in the desert?
The hot weather in August (laughs). No, really, I think it has to be the weather—and a location close to the beach when it gets hot here.
Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at email@example.com.