The World’s Greatest Wine City
New York City is the capital of many things: finance, art, fashion—and wine. Writer Ben Cheever tastes his way down Broadway while Peter Hellman reports on the city’s best shops and restaurant wine lists.
Appellation Wine & Spirits
“I gave my shop its name because I wanted to be clear that our wines would have a sense of place,” says owner Scott Pactor. The store’s focus on organic and biodynamic wines stems from Pactor’s experience as a sommelier, when he found that these kinds of wines went particularly well with food. The shop’s 250 wines are arranged according to style, from light to full-bodied. Try the 2005 Château de Vaux Les Gryphées ($16), a refreshing white blend from the French (not German) Moselle region (156 10th Ave.; 212-741-9474 or appellationnyc.com).
Here’s the next big idea in wine retail: Create kiosks that focus on the food or occasion and match the wine accordingly. Want a bottle for Chinese or Thai take-out? Check out the kiosk with the Chinese food carton and choose the 2006 Santa. Julia Torrontés ($9), a bright white from Argentina (5 W. 19th St.; 212-929-2323 or bottlerocketwine.com).
Burgundy Wine Company
The Burgundy Wine Company sells no Cabernet or Merlot; when the store launched 20 years ago, it sold only wines from Burgundy and the Rhône. Owner Geri Tashjian eventually added Oregon wines but still spends lots of time looking for Burgundies like the 2004 Faiveley Champ Lalot ($24), an elegant Givry red that’s also an excellent value (143 W. 26th St.; 212-691-9092 or burgundywinecompany.com).
Chelsea Wine Vault
Located in the upscale gourmet-food mall that is the Chelsea Market, this shop features lots of unusual wines like the 2002 Maramonte Syrage ($14), a California heavyweight blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Petit Sirah that will stand up to the heartiest stews. A racy Loire white, the 2005 Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre ($22) is ideal paired with a tangy goat cheese (of which you'll find quite a selection in the Chelsea Market). An enormous storage cellar located directly below the shop ensures that all selections are well-stored (75 Ninth Ave.; 212-462-4244 or chelseawinevault.com).
Mani Dawes, owner of the lively tapas bar Tía Pol, decided to open an all-Spanish wine shop. She has created a spot that’s stripped down yet elegant, with black chandeliers on the high tin ceiling. Dawes keeps an even balance of old and new Spanish wines. A favorite modern-style wine: the big, rich and intense 2004 Clos Martinet "Martinet Bru" ($35), a red from the Priorat region (85 First Ave.; 212-254-0850 or tintofino.com).
Astor Wines & Spirits
With its massive selection, Astor is a bit like the Macy’s of wine. "We try to offer great values from all over the world," says manager Greg Dal Piaz. Bargain hunters focus on the “Ten Under Ten,” including the 2005 Château La Grace du Ciel, an easy-drinking red Bordeaux for just $4.99. Buy 10 and get two free (399 Lafayette St.; 212-674-7500 or astorwines.com).
Moore Brothers Wine Company
This shop sources wines primarily from France and Italy. There are no wines from anywhere in America at all (though you can find five wines from the tiny Nahe region of Germany). There is also a surprisingly strong selection of well-priced older wines, such as the 1989 Paitin Barbaresco Sori Paitin ($100), a top Piedmontese red. A word of warning: The shop temperature is kept at 56 degrees for the benefit of the wines (33 E. 20th St.; 212-375-1575 or moorebros.com).
This store sells nothing but wine and spirits from every part of Italy. In fact, wine director Charles Scicolone has not neglected a single corner of the country. Try the 2000 Tenuta del Portale Aglianico del Vulture Riserva, a vibrant and minerally Basilicata red ($23), or the zingy 2004 Mecella Pagliano ($16). Most selections are also available at the jointly owned I Trulli restaurant, directly across the street (121 E. 27th St.; 212-725-6516 or vinositeshop.com).
This welcoming wine outpost counts Bill Clinton among its celebrity customers (it’s down the road from his 125th Street office). Owners Jai Jai Greenfield and Eric Woods created a charming shop with a selection of wines made by Winemakers of Color; it features the fresh-fruited 2005 Indaba Chardonnay ($9) from South Africa and the highly praised and juicy 2005 Vision Cellars Pinot Noir from Sonoma winemaker Mac McDonald ($37) (2235 Frederick Douglass Blvd.; 212-866-9463 or harlemvintage.com).
Lower East Side
This spacious shop exudes a Zenlike calm on a gritty block. The store, which opened in 2004, features a new concept: terminals where customers can swipe the bar code on the back label of any bottle to get information on its source, style and suggested pairings. (Most of the information is staff-written.) One great buy is the fruity, friendly 2005 Cudgee Creek Shiraz ($7) from South Australia (10 Avenue A; 212-674-7833 or discoverywines.com).
September Wines & Spirits
“This is a young and constantly changing neighborhood, so we always try to have something new on hand,” says assistant manager Jesse Frost. As a result, half the selections change every six months. Wines are arranged in tiers, with the least expensive on the bottom and the most expensive on top, making it easy to shop in a particular price range. Selections tend to be adventurous, such as Médaillon, a “slightly oxidized” white from Morocco ($10) and the 2004 Fritsch Zweigelt, a juicy Austrian red ($14.) There are also some high-priced classics for the more traditionally minded, including a 2001 Château Margaux ($270) and 2003 Sassicaia ($185) (100 Stanton St.; 212-388-0770 or septemberwines.com).
This brightly lit, tiny (500 square feet) shop specializes in organic wines, many of them found by owner Jean-Baptiste Humbert on frequent trips to his native France. Some are exclusive imports, such as the Rhône red 2003 Domaine Rabasse-Charavin ($30), which has a nose that “almost blew me away,” said salesperson Maya Pedersen (a certified sommelier whose lip ring does not seem to interfere with her tasting acumen). Overheard conversations are a bonus—one customer to his date: “Our love is so complicated, sweetheart, let’s keep the dinner menu really simple.” Maybe that’s why the store is called Wine Therapy. (171 Elizabeth St.; 212-625-2999).
This handsome shop has a terrific array of German Rieslings—more than 100, many from older vintages. According to manager Tom Stephenson, "Some 1993 Rieslings are priced the same as the 2005s." He suggests the 1993 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Spätlese ($30), which he says is "drinking beautifully." A few wines can be sampled free all day long (153 E. 57th St.; 212-980-9463 or crushwineco.com).
Morrell & Company
This elegant shop features pinpoint selections by owners Peter and Roberta Morrell, whose family started selling wine in the 1920s. The selection is wide and deep and equally focused on both Old and New World. Try the lush 2005 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley ($50), then have lunch next door at the Morrell Wine Bar & Café (1 Rockefeller Plaza; 212-688-9370 or morrellwine.com).
Owner Michael Aaron claims his 73-year-old store once sold 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild for $2.25 per bottle. (Last year, a bottle sold at auction for over $10,000!) The wealthy clientele isn't averse to bargains, like the well-chosen petits châteaus Bordeaux, mostly under $15; try the rich Château Carsin, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux ($14). This summer the shop will move to larger quarters at 505 Park Avenue (679 Madison Ave.; 212-838-7500 or sherry-lehmann.com).
Chambers Street Wines
Co-owner David Lillie’s passion is for the wines of the Loire, while his partner Jamie Wolff is an expert on Italy and Burgundy. Thus this shop offers an exceptional spectrum of wines. There are, for example, 88 Loire wines including the 1996 Druet Bourgueil Grandmont ($35), an earthy, mature red (160 Chambers St.; 212-227-1434 or chambersstreetwines.com).
Union Square Wines & Spirits
This is the only Manhattan shop with an Enomatic automatic wine dispenser, which customers can use by inserting a card that allows them to sample dozens of wines. Wine director Jesse Salazar travels widely in search of new wines such as Lee Hudson’s first Chardonnay ($65) from his prized Carneros vineyard. There are also quite a few "unlisted" wines hidden in the USQ cellar; you might even find a bottle of Screaming Eagle (140 Fourth Ave.; 212-675-8100 or unionsquarewines.com).
Upper East Side
Founders Joshua Wesson and Richard Marmet came up with a groundbreaking concept back in 1996: selling wine by style, not region of origin. Thus the wines in this easy-to-navigate shop are color-coded in categories that include Fresh, Luscious, Big, Juicy and Fizzy. And nearly all cost less than $15. Try the "Juicy" Emperor’s Blush Rosé ($8), a blend from New York’s Finger Lakes region (1291 Lexington Ave.; 212-426-4200 or bestcellars.com).
Owner Guy Goldstein, a certified sommelier, promises that a sommelier will always be on hand at Cellar 72 to answer food-and-wine-pairing questions. Goldstein tells a story about a customer who wanted a red wine to accompany a citrus-marinated fish she was making for a dinner party. It was a tricky match (white would have been easier), but he succeeded with the 2003 Benessere’s Costa Del Sol ($18), a Napa Valley blend of Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. “She came back the next day to say how much her guests loved the combination,” Goldstein said (1355 Second Ave.; 212-639-9463).
Pasanella and Son Vintners
Housed in a former wholesale fish store dating back to the 1830s (which may once have been a brothel), this raffish shop features a canny selection of 400 wines chosen by Mary Taylor, formerly of Sotheby’s wine department. One of Taylor’s top picks is the earthy, chewy 2000 Scarzello Barolo ($67), a wonderful red “to drink right now,” she says. Wine lovers can also choose from the bottles in the open trunk of a 1967 Ferrari parked in the middle of the store (115 South St. (South Street Seaport); 212-233-8383 or pasanellaandson.com).
Tune in on Wednesdays at 10PM ET for Top Chef: Boston, the 12th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.