Kevin Zraly has always been a man ahead of his time. Six years ago, that probably saved his life. On February 26, 1993, Zraly--wine director of Manhattan's Windows on the World restaurant, founder of the Windows on the World Wine School, lecturer, scholar, author, father and self-described wino--decided to drive home early. Two hours later, a bomb ripped through the World Trade Center garage. "I was lucky," he recalls, in an uncharacteristic understatement.
Tonight, Zraly is back on top of the world--at the top of the World Trade Center, that is, 107 floors above Manhattan. He's just uncorked his 23rd annual eight-week Windows wine course, which 10,000 students have attended since 1976. As the lights of New Jersey sparkle in the distance, Zraly, 48, bounds down the aisles like a barrel-chested Jerry Springer. "Everybody say poo-lay foo-may," he booms into the mike. "If you can say it, you can buy it!" Part comedian, part televangelist, Zraly quickly rouses his audience, a well-tailored collection of Wall Street heavy hitters and thirtysomething sophisticos. It's easy to see why his book, The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, has sold more than a million copies. "What's the name of the grape?" Zraly calls out. "Don't be shy. I. Can't. Hear. You!" It's quite obvious that this man is more than a gifted teacher; in the wine world, Zraly is a bona-fide celebrity.
During his three-decade reign at Windows, Zraly created the wine list with the largest sales in the country. Before Zraly, it's fair to say that the average American restaurant didn't pay much attention to wine. In fact, it was once looked upon as little more than a European affectation; Americans, after all, used to prefer spirits with their supper. Today, of course, a good wine list is considered an integral part of any memorable restaurant experience.