Whether it’s old or new bars, wine-focused restaurants or natural wine havens, the Big Apple’s’s drinking dens illustrate the vibrancy of the city’s wine scene. Manhattan resident Peter Hellmann highlights the best.
New Yorkers like to assume that terrific wine bars have always been close at hand. Well, not always. The first of its kind, The Wine Bar in Soho, opened only in 1981. Several others soon followed, all now deceased. In 1999, a new wave of sipping spots was signalled by the opening of the Morrell Wine Bar & Café in the Rockefeller Center. Now, dozens of bars, boasting well-curated pours, can be found out to the edges of the city. Those listed here are diverse in style and quirks. But they do have this in common: they are staffed with people who are as passionate about wine as you are.
Peter Hellmann’s top New York wine bars:
New York wine bars: Old favourites
Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe, MidtownIn 1999, when this multi-generational wine shop moved to the Rockefeller Center, CEO Roberta Morrell noticed an empty storefront next door. It was the first of a new wave of wine bars. ‘I wanted a curved bar so it would be easier for people to socialise’, she says. ‘I didn’t want it to be uptown stodgy.’ An extraordinary 150 by-the-glass pours are offered. Given the city’s often hyped-up prices, mark-ups here are modest: ‘retail, not restaurant’, Morrell says. And the kitchen turns out excellent food. Try three-day brined turkey breast on challah bread ($17/£11.50) with a glass of Craggy Range’s Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc ($14/£9.50) or a elegant Château de Myrat’s Barsac 2007 ($18/£12).
Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe, 1 Rockefeller Plaza, 49th St.
Tel: +1 212 262 7700; morrellwinebar.com
Prix-fixe lunch $28/£18.50; dinner menu.
Bar Boulud, Lincoln Center
When star chef Daniel Boulud opened Bar Boulud six years ago, charcuterie was its calling card. Wine lovers are drawn to this perpetually busy favourite opposite the Lincoln Center by wine director Michael Madrigal’s Big Bottle Pours. Each evening, he offers a special wine from magnum or largerformat bottle, priced between $24-$29 (£16-£19) a glass. One Friday, it was Domaine Ogier’s Cote Rotie 2003 at $29. That price is Madrigal’s threshold before ‘really going into the stratosphere of what a glass of wine should cost’. He sources his big bottles from private collectors, auctions and directly from growers. ‘It’s the thrill of the hunt for great wines that are not prohibitively expensive’, says Madrigal.
Bar Boulud, 1900 Broadway,
Tel: +1 212 595 0303; barboulud.com
Prix-fixe lunch $29/£19, dinner $45/£30.
Hearth, East Village
In 2003, the East Village wine and food scene was instantly upgraded with the opening of this comfy restaurant and wine bar. Proprietor Paul Grieco’s wine list is a 79-page erudite, iconoclastic riff highlighted by his odes to Planet Riesling. In 2008, Grieco opened his first of his four Terroir wine bars a few doors away from Hearth. Good as these are, there’s something special about sipping at the ‘mother ship’, especially if you nab a table at the bay window opposite the bar as the late-afternoon sun streams in. By-the-glass options included a Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland 1994 ($19/£12.50 for a glass, or $6/£4 for a taster). Grieco shares his love for Sherry by offering $2.50/£1.70 pours during a happy hour, surely the city’s best wine deal.
Hearth, 403 E 12th St,
Tel: +1 646 602 1400; restauranthearth.com
Dishes $29-$38 (£19-£25)
Photo credit: Kat Bryant
Brooklyn Oenology, Williamsburg
Ally Shaper, a former engineer turned winemaker, opened this rustic tasting room in 2010. Her dream of actually making wine in Brooklyn is yet to be fulfilled, so she uses a custom-crush facility on Long Island’s North Fork after personally harvesting her own fruit. Ten Brooklyn Oenology wines, ranging from blends called Social Club Red and Social Club White to a Cabernet Franc Rosé, are poured in the tasting room. Finger Lakes Pinot Gris 2012 is a new favourite. Sixteen additional wines from other New York state producers are also served. Four-strong wine flights are offered at $14-$18 (£9.50-£12). Friday night features $1/70p oysters, best washed down with Shaper’s Pinot Gris. In good weather, make time to stroll to the reborn Brooklyn waterfront, only a block from the tasting room.
Brooklyn Oenology, 209 Wythe Ave.
Tel: +1 718 599 1259; brooklynoenology.com
Light snacks served.
New York wine bars: Wine-themed restaurants
Pearl & Ash, Bowery
If you’re looking to dine in cosseted luxury, don’t visit Pearl & Ash, where chairs don’t have backs and tables are spaced with minimal clearance. But, oh my, the wine list! Lean, abundantly tattooed wine director Patrick Cappiello is a prince of eclecticism, offering a diversity of mainstream, natural and just plain head-scratching labels, such as a pair of red wines from Utah. On a recent evening, Cappiello proposed what the label called a seemingly lowly Vin de France. In fact, it was a dark, dense Syrah made by a Japanese winemaker in St-Joseph. The bottle at the next table was the more mainstream Château Barde-Haut 2001 from St-Emilion, fully mature and well-priced at $95/£63. On alternate Tuesdays, Cappiello offers a limited-seating, five-course, Renegade Wine Dinner accompanied by 15 wines (renegadewinedinner.com).
Pearl & Ash, 220 Bowery.
Tel: +1 212 837 2370; pearlandash.com
Small plates $9-$16 (£6-£11).
‘When I moved to Harlem 10 years ago, if you asked for a glass of red wine, you’d get cheap sweet stuff in a little bottle’, said the server from behind the handsome zinc bar at year-old Vinateria, an easy-going, yet vivacious Harlem wine-themed restaurant. Responding to my request for a glass of red, the server offered sample sips of three wines: an aromatic Bierzo from Spain, a smoky Cannonau from Sardinia and a bright Aglianico from Campania. (I chose the Bierzo.) ‘We get mostly neighourhood regulars here, not tourists’, says wine director Gabriela Davogustto. ‘I don’t want them ever to get bored.’ Not much chance of that, with a constantly changing list of 70 wines, one third of which are poured by the glass. An excellent, Italian-inflected menu is executed by chef and Davogustto’s husband Gustavo Lopez.
Vinateria, 2211 Frederick Douglass Blvd.
Tel: +1 212 662 8462; vinaterianyc.com
Small to large plates $8-$22 (£5.50-£15).
Rouge Tomate, Chelsea
At Rouge Tomate’s original mid-town location, the healthy yet delicious food was a lure. Beckoning equally to wine lovers was the 600-label wine list assembled by French-born Pascaline Lepeltier. Her list delved into arcane vineyard corners, so long as the wines tasted natural and good. Rouge Tomate, driven out of its former location by high rent, will reopen in mid-2015 in Chelsea. While keeping much of her original wine list, Lepeltier promises new discoveries, including wines she tasted last summer during a visit to New Zealand.’ At this new location, I’ll feel freer to be more diverse, to push the boundaries,’ she says. ‘And, after midtown, I want the list to be more affordable. I’m hoping to deliver wines that have something to say for as little as $25/£16.50 a bottle.’
Rouge Tomate, 126 West 18th St.
Tel: +1 212 646 237 8977; rougetomatenyc.com
Open daily, 12pm-3pm, 5.30pm-11.30pm; bar all day.
Barrel Room at City Winery, Tribeca
Six years after City Winery debuted into the jaws of the financial crisis, it’s still a surprise to come upon a full-scale winery in Manhattan. Grapes are trucked into the building from near and far to be vinified by French winemaker David Lecomte. Ten wines are on tap in the no-frills Barrel Room, flowing directly from tank or barrel to your glass. Never having been bottled, these wines have been exposed to little sulphuring, and the freshness shows. Try the Sohovignon Blanc or Vandam Zin on tap. Before you leave the Barrel Room, take a peek into the winery via the windows on the left. Tribeca is the ultimate in urban chic, but it’s also winery country. Along with its own wines, City Winery offers a 400-label list of wines made elsewhere.
Barrel Room at City Winery, 155 Varick St.
Tel: +1 212 608 0555. citywinery.com
Small plates $6-$17 (£4-£11)
New York wine bars: For natural wine lovers
Racines NY, Downtown
For years, David Lillie of Chambers St Wines, one of the city’s premier wine shops, sought a location for a wine bar and restaurant which would showcase natural wines. He found one on a nearby downscale block, and partnered with the owner of the Parisian Racines, an early militant for natural wine. The list of 30 wines by the glass is a study in esoterica. For natural wine buffs, it’s a playground for the palate. Try the exotically fruited Château Lapuyade 2012, a biodynamic blend of Petit and Gros Manseng from Jurançon ($8/£5.50), or Bow & Arrow’s Rhinestones Pinot Noir/Gamay blend from Oregon ($15/£10). When in doubt, consult with wine director Arnaud Tronche. He’s easy to spot, thanks to his ever-present long scarf. The menu is short and market-driven.
Racines NY, 94 Chambers St.
Tel: +1 212 2273400; racinesny.com
Achilles Heel, Greenpoint
Brooklyn’s dining and drinking vibe, skilled rather than slick, funky rather than fancy, owes much to Andrew Tarlow’s Williamsburg restaurants: Diner, Reynard and Marlow & Sons. Most recently, the Tarlow vibe has alighted on a quiet corner of Greenpoint, a waterfront neighbourhood where blue-collars meet hipsters. What makes Achilles Heel a wine buff’s destination is its ultra-compressed wine list created by Lee Campbell, a key mover on New York’s natural wine scene. Just 15 by-the-glass selections are offered, but each is big in character, such as the richly flavoured Macvin du Jura whites and reds from Château d’Arlay. Fortified wines are a specialty here, oysters are always freshly shucked and live music is a regular feature.
Achilles Heel, 180 West St, Brooklyn.
Tel: +1 347 987 3666; achillesheelnyc.com
Small plates $4-$22 (£2.50-£14.50).
New York wine bars: Newcomers
Corkbuzz Winebar, Chelsea
After a stroll on the High Line, Manhattan’s hottest urban park, you’ll be ready for a glass of wine. Almost directly under the park’s old trestles, the new Corkbuzz Wine Bar at Chelsea Market awaits. Unlike the original Corkbuzz in Greenwich Village, created two years ago by Master Sommelier Laura Maniec, this satellite is cramped. Its miniscule kitchen offers snacks rather than a sit-down meal. No matter; there are 40 wines by the glass. ‘I don’t hold back the best wines to be sold only by the bottle’, Maniec says. Along with her own selections, she’s also included favourites from an array of other top sommeliers, identified by their initials next to their selections. As at her Greenwich Village spot, Maniec offers a range of wine classes.
Corkbuzz Winebar, 75 9th Ave.
Tel: +1 646 237 4847 http://chelsea.corkbuzz.com
Small plates $4-$13 (£2.50-£8.50)
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, Midtown
Of all the wine bars in New York, Aldo Sohm’s at the Equitable Center is the newest and brightest star. A decade ago, Sohm slipped into New York from his native Austria as sommelier at Wallse in Greenwich Village. Even then, he seemed marked for stardom. He was named Best Sommelier of the World in 2008, as well as wine director of Le Bernardin, the city’s grandest seafood spot. Sohm now has his own wine bar, but don’t dare call it an appendage to Le Bernardin. It’s cool, canny and puckish; rather like its namesake. Try the whole baked cauliflower with roasted-chicken salt paired with a Grüner Veltliner made by Sohm in partnership with Austria’s Gerhard Kracher. Sohm’s theme is balance, and this wine says it all.
151 West 51st St.
Tel: +1 212 554 1143; aldosohmwinebar.com
Small plates $6.50-$22 (£4.50-£14.50).
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Nolita
Already established in Paris and London, New York got its own outpost of this sophisticated wine bar last spring. Facing the magnificent Beaux-Arts-style former police headquarters and with its French doors, Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels might as well be in Paris. It offers a mainly French, 600-bottle wine list and ample by-the-glass pours. A glass wall enclosing a grid of wines divides the space, and there are intimate low-slung couches at the back. Try a bottle of JL Vergnon, Conversation Brut NV, nicely priced at $85/£56. Sommelier Fabien Suquet takes pleasure in offering a ‘mystery wine’ at the wine bar. Guess correctly, and a bottle is yours, free.
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, 249 Centre St,
Tel: +1 212-343-3660; compagnienyc.com
Small dishes $11-$15 (£7.50-£10)
Bacchanal, Lower East Side
When this relaxed, wine-themed restaurant and bar opened last spring, it already boasted a wine list full of gems that usually would take decades to acquire: wines like Conterno’s Barolo 1967 ($825/£545), Château Talbot 1949 ($975/£642) and Marqués de Riscal’s Reserva 1940 ($605/£399). Their source is the cellar of Harry Poulakakos, who began buying top wines in 1972 when he opened Harry’s Café & Steak, a Wall St fixture. His son Peter is a partner in Bacchanal, and has tapped into his father’s vinous treasure trove. Wine director Ivan Mitankin has an unashamedly Old-World palate, but has not neglected New-World selections which reflect his tastes. At a recent dinner where both seafood and red meat were served, Sandlands Trousseau 2012 ($70/£46), a light-bodied, sprightly red from Sonoma County, covered all bases. Chef Craig Hopson delivers homey, stylish food.
Bacchanal, 146 Bowery.
Tel: +1 646 3551840; bacchanalnyc.com
Main courses $20-$36 (£13-£24).