One of the eternal joys of New York City is that no matter where you live (or stay in a hotel), there is always one of everything right around the corner; a grocery market, a deli, and a dry cleaner. Add to that list, a wine shop.
Nobody in New York ever has to walk more than a few blocks to pick up a bottle of chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a dark, robust Australian Shiraz. Yet sometimes the corner liquor store just won't do. Whether it's an occasion to celebrate or just a rainy Tuesday night, there are times when you want to venture beyond your four block radius and find something unique.
So, how does one locate a good place to buy wine? Moreover, what are the qualities that make a wine shop great? Here's a simple guide:
+ Ask around: And don't be afraid to ask! But better yet, take brief notes so you can refer to the answers later.
+ Really listen to what's being said: A store that sells wine is selling much more than intoxicating liquid. It's also in the business of telling stories about people's lives; the people who grew the grapes, the people who made the wine and put it in the bottle. Therefore, look for a shop staffed by a friendly, knowledgeable sales team who know as much about the vineyards as they do about wine classifications.
+ Ask about the grape: If you are new to wine, let the staff know. Here are some ideas that can help you communicate:
- Have the salesperson suggest two wines made with the same grape but from different countries. This will help you become acquainted with regional styles, while you learn about a particular classification.
- Or let the salesperson suggest a wine he or she likes (eliciting as many details as possible) and then buy it and a bottle from a different vineyard to see if you can detect the differences.
+ Taste test at home: Once home, cover each of your bottles so you can't tell which is which. Taste both and write notes. Compare what you're experiencing to what you learned in the wine shop. See if the salesperson's description matches your perceptions.
+ Evaluate the salespeople as well as the wine: The staff at a good wine shop will not only help you learn, they will be eager to do so. I recommend 67 Wine & Spirits on 67th and Amsterdam and Warehouse Wine & Spirits on Broadway one block west of Astor Place as good places to start.
+ Be adventurous: Break away from what you usually drink and try something new. A shop that aims to differentiate itself from the pack will carry all the standard bottles, plus a cornucopia of unique and interesting offerings.
+ Put a wine shop to the test: Walk in and tell the salespeople what you usually drink (like Merlot, for example). Tell them what you usually look for in a red wine (such as full-bodied, fruity, etc.), then ask them to suggest something entirely new that still fits your tastes. An educated salesperson's excitement over describing new wines and regions will be contagious.
+ Invest small change: And don't think you have to spend a fortune. Ask the salespeople to suggest something under ten dollars as well as another bottle around fifteen. Try these bottles "blind" (as described above) to determine whether the little bit of extra money was well spent. Work your way up a budget, not down it.
+ Pull corks: This has been and always will be the best way to learn about wine and to discover what truly moves you. Buy, taste, observe.
- Stick to one type of wine for a while, but buy it from different vineyards to see how they compare.
Crossroads on 14th between fifth and sixth is a virtual treasure trove for the adventurous wine drinker, even if the staff is a bit surly at times (but if they were too friendly, you'd be suspicious, especially in New York). And remember, there is all too often a disconnect between price and quality.
+ Taste wine in the shop: A great wine shop offers tastings (many free), where you can sample recommendations. Take advantage of these opportunities, but don't feel pressured to buy.
- Union Square Wine & Spirits at Union Square frequently advertises free tastings in their new salon (top picture) as does Astor Wines & Spirits at Astor Place. These are especially good places to try if you feel shy about asking salespeople for a sample.
+ Attend wine classes: Going to a wine class is a great way to exchange information with others, plus learn more about the subject. Some classes provide the means to let you buy what you taste, while others are simply advisory.
More information on wine shop tastings and wine classes can be found on my site, www.NYCWineClass.com, as well as on www.LocalWineEvents.com, and www.FunWithWine.com.
All of this said, the main goal of wine tasting, of course, is about enjoying the experience. But you might remember that I began this article by saying that wine is about people - those who grow and harvest the grapes as well as bottle it. As you become at ease selecting wines from various vineyards, learn more about them on the web (if they have a site) and consider visiting them when you're traveling near their area.
Read the article on Littleviews Travel!