The Wine Guy: Transitions

Saying goodbye to Silesia Liquors owner Mike Tilch and changes in store for Bell Wine and Liquors

There are two transitions to report in Washington’s wine retail scene this month.
The first is a sad one: Mike Tilch, co-owner and bon vivant of Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington, passed away September 5. He was 57. Mike had operated the store since 1975 with his brother, Ray Tilch, and was beloved by wine collectors throughout the Washington region. He was legendary in wine circles for his palate, his wit, and his generosity. The store became a mecca for wine lovers looking for top wines at value prices; if you made the trip and didn’t visit the reserve room to at least salivate over the top selections—and their fair prices—you missed out on an experience.
Wine lovers will be glad to know that the store will not be changing even though Mike is no longer there. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to keep things as they were,” Ray Tilch says. “We were business partners for more than 30 years, and I have no desire or willingness to change a thing.”

We may be shedding a tear over Mike’s passing, but somewhere out there eyes are welling with laughter and glasses are clinking in salutation because Mike Tilch has joined the party.
  The second transition is happier news. Brothers Bob and Fred Luskin have sold Bell Wine and Liquors (1821 M St., NW), which has been in their family since 1955, and are phasing into semiretirement. The store’s new owner, Carlos Nalda, a communications attorney and regular customer for more than two decades, has already begun making changes.

“He’s thrown away our collection of empty trophy bottles, some of which dated back to the 1920s!” Bob Luskin says. Nalda describes the changes as removing decades of dust and installing a “fresh perspective” to the store.

What this means for consumers is that Bob and Fred will continue “indefinitely” as consultants, Nalda says, though they will work fewer hours. Khalid Mohamed, who has managed the store since 1974, will stay on with the help of comanager Brian Leger, a veteran of the Northern Virginia wine retail scene.

The famous Saturday tastings from 12:15 to 2:00 PM will continue in the same format—ten or more wines selected by staff from their favorites and samples under consideration, and customers must taste them in order. So the freewheeling debates will still take place in the shadow of Bob Luskin’s threatening pronouncement, “If I suffer, you suffer!”

 During the week, Nalda intends to add tastings, with wholesalers and importers featuring their selections. And while the Luskins were known for “direct-importing” value-priced California wines not available elsewhere in Washington, Nalda will expand that practice to include wines from around the world. The Luskin brothers will also continue their monthly wine tastings at Borders at 18th and L streets, Northwest.
I developed my wine palate through many Saturday tastings and discussions at Bell’s, and I frequently received encouraging e-mails from Mike Tilch about my wine articles. I’m feeling old this week.