SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

Travel Journal: New York State of Mind

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All great adventures should begin in New York, a city that combines frenetic energy and endless possibility.  To quote the dynamic duo of Alcia Keys & Jay-Z:

In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There’s nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you,
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York
From Empire State of Mind

It may, then, come as no surprise that my four months of wine-related travel started in Manhattan — a place I called home for six years after graduating from college.

I’ve jotted down some thoughts on four “can’t miss” wine destinations:  Anfora, The Ten Bells, Terroir, and Chambers Street Wine.  I should note, however, that there are a slew of great restaurants with fantastic wine lists and world-reknown sommeliers (Bar Boulud, Eleven Madison, and Casa Mono to name a few) that did not make this list simply because I had a limited amount of time and didn’t make it there this time around.

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Anfora
34 8th Avenue (West Village)
New York, NY

Decorated with a row of black leather wrap-around booths, Anfora is the most dolled-up / loungy wine bar that I visited. But despite the sleek decor, this place still felt comfortable. Service was friendly, non-obtrusive, and helpful.  And the wine list — oh my, the wine list — is a pleasure to peruse.  It’s chock full of great information on the wineries featured.  More importantly, with close to 40 wines by the glass, you are bound to find something to your liking, whether you want a funky orange wine or a solid Côtes de Rhône (from non other than Jean Louis Chave). In addition, the list features an all-star list of producers: Cazin, COS, Cousin, Gravner, Lopez de Heredia, Puffeney…I can go on and on.

Try to get there on a Tuesday night, when Anfora hosts producer night, allowing you to try multiple wines from the same winemaker.  Every now and then, the producer stops in to partake in the festivities.  Last week, Benjamin Leroux from Burgundy’s Comtes Armand and Pierre Breton (one half of the dynamic duo behind the Loire’s Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton) were at Anfora on back-to-back nights. If only this was my neighborhood bar!

(picture is a link from the Anfora website)

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The Ten Bells
247 Broome Street (LES)
New York, NY

Oh how the Lower East Side has changed.  Back in the day, there was no American Apparel on Houston Street, and Arlene’s Grocery was the only place to go.  Those days are long gone, but thankfully, nightlife on the LES now includes a damn good wine bar — The Ten Bells.  This is a comfy space with pressed tin decor, soft lighting, and lots of empty magnums lying around, making you feel like you walked into an apartment that threw some baller party the night before.  The wine list focuses on old world, natural wine producers. The BTG list may have less choices than Anfora’s, but it boasts a solid bottle selection and a decent number of magnums and jeroboams in case you roll in with a heavy drinking crew.  You know what they say:  go big or go home.

While a few years old, this ode to The Ten Bells by the NY Times’ Eric Asimov is worth a read:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/07/dining/07pour.html?scp=3&sq=%22ten%20bells%22&st=cse

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Terroir
413 E. 12th Street (East Village)
New York, NY

(other locations in Tribeca (24 Harrison) and Murray Hill (439 Third Ave.))

Terroir’s Paul Grieco reached full-on wine celebrity status by making Riesling the hip wine of the past three years. Ever hear of “Summer of Riesling“? That was Chairman Grieco’s doing.   Much of the press attention has been focused on his Riesling advocacy and fashion sense, but the key to Terroir’s success may be Grieco’s strong service background.  He previously worked as Gramercy Tavern’s beverage director.  And everyone who has ever served me a drink at Terroir seems to have taken the importance of good service to heart, allowing this tiny boite of a wine bar (only 24 seats) to live up to its creed:  “The Elitist Wine Bar for Everyone.”

Terroir also boasts one of the most entertaining wine lists in the country, providing tongue-in-cheek humor, current affairs commentary, and wine info in a three ring binder that is decorated with drawings and stickers that makes it look like some 15 year old skate rat’s Trapper Keeper.  Well, assuming said 15 year old was obsessed with good wine.

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Chambers Street Wine
148 Chambers Street (Downtown)
New York, NY

This shop didn’t get the title “The Greatest Wine Retailer in America” for nothin’.  It really is a wine geek’s dream come true:  aisles and ailes of wines that make you scream, “Yes!  I want that….and that….and that.”  Or as Mike Steinberger, the Wine Diarist, puts it:

The inventory is a who’s who of anti-flavor wine-elite favorites: Pépière, Huet, Pinon, Breton, Lapierre, Brun, Lopez de Heredia, Mascarello, Bea, Prum, Dönnhoff. If your palate runs in this direction, you could easily lose an entire afternoon in the place. I’ve often fantasized about pitching a tent there, just me and a corkscrew (no glass necessary).

I want an invitation to visit said tent.

For those of you that live outside of NYC, you’ll be happy to know that Chambers will UPS your cases to you (and I highly recommend going this route as Chambers carries wines that are very hard to find outside of New York, including some killer Mosel Riesling from Weiser-Künstler and Immich Batterieberg).  I highly recommend signing up for the Chambers Street twitter feed to keep up to date on any wine tastings going on during your NYC visit.

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I also want to give a shout out to California Wine Merchants (15 Bridge Street) for seeking out and carrying some unique, small production California producers, including Arnot-Roberts, Donkey & Goat, Massican, and Wind Gap.  This is a great place to pick up a gift for your NY friends to show them that there are a lot of interesting things going on in the CA wine world.

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Writing about these places has brought back a lot of fond memories, so it seems fitting that I put on a little Carmen McRae to close out this article.

PS — Here’s a link to a handy Google map of the places listed above:

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