Greeting guests with a small taste of their Spanish mulled house wine, we immediately knew that we had discovered a small wonder. Aytac and Zaf, both from Turkey, are the owners. They lived in New York for many years, working in other restaurants before the two friends decided to embark on their own adventure. They opened their doors in 2007 and have had a steady flow of customers, drawing from both the locals living in the neighborhood and the strong tourist population that surrounds them. Nothing is made from scratch on the premises, as the kitchen is minute, but what they bring out of there is absolutely scrumptious. We managed to eat every piece of chocolate made by either renowned Jacques Torres or Xocolatti. Small chunks are served on a wooden platter, similar to a cheese board. Delving into their signature dessert, "21 Layer Crepes Cake" was like indulging in a piece of heaven. Thin crepes and whipped cream, topped with burnt sugar. We watched as others shared the dark chocolate fondue, dipping into their melted land of wonder with bananas, strawberries, marshmallows and finger cookies as Frank Sinatra was singing in the background. Although we did not order anything else, there is a menu filled with savory treats - Angry Chicken Lollipops, White Truffle Pizza, Goat Cheese Brulee and, of course, a cocktail menu of Chocolate Martinis and wines from around the world.
Stepping out of the culinary carnival in the main Eataly building through the side street entrance of the calm, cool wine shop next door was a soothing experience. The space is primarily filled with Italian wines, though there is a selection of local New York varieties upstairs. Also on the second floor is the “Riserva Room, ” a temperature-controlled chamber with rare wines, mainly acquired through auctions. What surprised me about the Riserva Room, however, is that the bottles are not very expensive. Despite feeling the need to whisper inside the elegant space, I noticed that many tags quoted prices under $100. We learned from Brianna Buford, the PR Assistant, that this is so that customers do not feel intimidated to try new wines. As with the rest of Eataly, Vino is dedicated to educating the public about the quality, origin, and uses of its products. There are helpful signs in the area and tastings every week. “Staff Pick” signs give shoppers individual recommendations and there are often fun promotions whose goal is to introduce customers to new labels. For example, in 2015, the wine store hid golden corks all over Eataly, offering anyone who found one a special bottle of Vino Libero. “Vino Libero” means “free the wine, ” a motto which seems to ring true throughout the store, where wine is freed from any pretension or intimidation and presented in a playful, educational way.
Tom Geniesse is in love with the Flatiron District and he believes he has chosen the perfect location to house his cleverly laid out wine shop. As he explained, there are two ways to shop for wine - first - the old fashioned way with the wines alphabetized by country. Thus, along the walls at the front of the store, multiple wine regions from around the world are represented alphabetically, beginning with Argentina. It is down the center of the shop, however, that Tom'sother idea for displaying wines comes to fruition: The same wines that line the sides are now separated by category - Meat, Seafood, Take-out, Treats, Gifts, Value, Events. Get the idea? The fun doesn't stop here, though, for next to each bottle Tom has a "resume" of each wine, providing tools to make wise choices. Collectors with deep pockets can find a fine selection as can university students who prefer not to spend a great deal. Bottlerocket is designed to build a bridge for consumers to make the right decision. When asked what drew him into the wine business, Tom said that he was a "crazy entrepreneur" who had lots of different jobs but continuously found himself disappointed in wine shops. "I always wanted to know more, and this is a result of that effort. "
We stopped by St. Marks Wine and Liquor early one evening when it wasn't too hectic and got the opportunity to speak to the manager, Jesse. His passion for wine, liquor, and this shop was evident as soon as our conversation began. He told us how he was a part of the concept from day one and absolutely loves being here everyday building the business and introducing customers to bottles of alcohol that they have never tried. Their wine selection is impressive with several hundred in stock at any given time. The shop holds tastings frequently and Jesse feels that they have already developed a loyal clientele. They look forward to educating many more customers about the various bottles of vodka, bourbon, whiskey, rum and, of course, wine that line their shelves.
After about a decade of residing on the corner of Madison and 74th, Marche Madison decided to open a wine shop to complement their deli and cafe. While chatting with the manager, Sammy, I learned that it is primarily people from the neighborhood who frequent the store. Because of this, Maison du Vin carries many high-end wines in order to cater to its Upper East Side clientele. Sammy emphasized, however, that this does not necessarily mean that they only offer expensive bottles. She also pointed out that there is a section of kosher wines, as well as a shelf full of local and organic wines.
As the name suggests, Burgundy Wine Company specializes in wines from this glorious region in France. Opening in 1988 in the West Village as a niche market before this concept became so trendy, their clientele has remained loyal and many over the years. Max, one of the knowledgeable staff members, explained to us that his dad got him into wine long before he was of legal age, and it has since become his passion. The shop seems like a perfect place to nurture a passion for wine - we can easily imagine ourselves curled up on their cozy couch with one of their books about wine, and a glass of red in hand.
I was drawn into 55th Street Wine & Spirits by the colorful, artfully arranged display of bottles in its window. Inside, I found glimmering rows of wines and liquors extending elegantly along an aisle. And as I walked towards the back, I met Shirley, who owns the shop with her husband. She laughingly told me that their primary motivation behind its opening in 1999 was, at the time, an ensured Sunday off. The couple began in a much smaller Manhattan location, and moved to 55th street after four years. Looking at me more seriously, Shirley declared, "this business has been my life's passion, and its success a dream come true. "
There is a tremendous amount of wine that is produced by large manufacturing companies who ship hundreds of thousands of bottles a year. These wines cannot be found at MCF Rare Wines, where Matt Franco curates a collection of just the opposite - wines from small, individual growers. Opened in 2010 - and in his present location since 2017 - MCF sells rare wines from around the world. While many believe that rare wines are expensive, MCF carries a wide price range. One can find a $10 bottle as easily as a bottle that is several hundred dollars. According to Matt, "We only have correct, classic, well made wine. It’s authentic. We keep it focused and curated. ” Matt grew up in a family that surrounded itself with wine. His uncle ran a wine shop in Connecticut, which allowed Matt to experience first hand the ins and outs of the business. Today, Matt spends a lot of his time visiting vineyards and wine distributors, many of which return the favor, as they are eager to see their brands sold in New York. From the start, Matt chose to have a limited collection. He wanted to stand out from other wine shops. “A small collection is easier to manage, and allows us to choose the wine personally, ” he explained, and then added, “We want to know the people, have the right spirit behind every bottle. ” While the story about the wines is definitely important to Matt and his customers, “In the end, it’s about the taste. ” Having tried all of the wines on his shelves, Matt feels confident that he is selling "only the best. " Matt has created a following in the community. Many customers regularly attend his wine tastings and eagerly await his newsletters, which highlight the latest delivery. If one stops by on most Saturday afternoons, one will find some bottles open and people sipping on a glass of the latest interesting wine while listening to the brief history behind it and engaging in conversation with the staff. “We have stuff for everyone, and our customers know that. ”
Acker Merrall & Condit Company changed its name to Acker Wines in 2020. I thought I misheard Anna, a member of the Acker Merrall team, when she said the company had been around since 1820. There was no misunderstanding: Acker Merrall is the oldest continuously operating wine merchant in the country. Anna even showed me a framed list on the wall that detailed the provisions of the Titanic. Sure enough, wine from Acker Merrall was listed. Anna explained that they were specifically known for stocking ships and that in the early 1900s, there were twenty-nine locations scattered along the coast, stretching as far south as Baltimore. Not only that, but the company sold fine food and housewares along with wine. As Harper, another member of the Acker Merrall team, joked, "It was perfect for when you think, 'Hmm... I need some whiskey and some chairs. '"Sadly, after Prohibition was repealed, a law was passed in New York requiring liquor stores to have only one location. It was also decided that no food items were allowed to be sold in a liquor shop. This meant that Acker Merrall had to choose whether it wanted to be a wine store or a grocery store. The original Acker Merrall family decided to take over the food and housewares departments and sold the alcohol operations to the Kapon family, who still run the company - John Kapon is currently the owner, and has been on West 72nd since 1985. Today, Acker Merrall is best known as the largest wine auctioneer in the world, with its strongest support coming from New York and Hong Kong, since China has become the biggest consumer of wine worldwide. There are beautifully bound books in the back of the store that have carefully documented these sales over the years. In addition to the auctions, the store has regular tasting events and invites importers and producers from different wine companies to share their goods with the community. While Acker is "pretty global, " they focus on a lot of old world wines, especially French. Harper credits the company's attention to detail and customer service with its longevity. Acker offers services that go above and beyond, such as free delivery to the Hamptons and Fire Island during the summer months. It also helps that Acker sources rare wines from many countries around the world. One day, I was with a member of the Manhattan Sideways team who recognized a bottle that his father had purchased while on vacation in Argentina. James excitedly said, "My dad loved this wine, but has never been able to find it again. " Of course he had to buy a bottle to take home to him. Before we left, Harper showed me a picture of New York City from the early 1900s. Behind a horse-drawn carriage and a pile of barrels, I could see the sign for Acker Merrall. In a city where shops open and close faster than I can discover them, it was refreshing to find a business that has managed to stay afloat for almost two centuries.
You may be familiar with wines organized by red, white or rosé — but what about bottles categorized as “Old Pals”, “Good Fellas”, or “BFFS”? Welcome to Veritas Studio Wines, a small-but-mighty independent wine shop on a quiet block of W45th Street where you can embrace unexpected and unique flavors at affordable prices. The creative mind behind Veritas and its unique offerings is none other than longtime New Yorker Jeremy Kaplan, whose career began in marketing for Madison Square Garden. After years of working on campaigns for the Knicks and Rangers, Jeremy decided to pursue a lifelong interest in wine by jumping directly into the heart of the city’s hospitality industry. “I had a friend in the wine industry tell me that to get my foot in the door, I needed to work at the best restaurant I could, ” said Jeremy. “At the time, the best restaurant I had worked for was Friendly’s! ” he laughed. “Fast forward to 2008, I got the opportunity to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tribeca called Bouley — for a year and a half or so, I worked for free, shadowing the sommelier, ” he said. “Eventually, I just started being a ‘som’ — that was my first time tasting everything. You taste everything you open, ” he noted. “I’d taste, I'd say, between 25 and 40 wines per shift, and probably 1500 to 2000 wines total in my time there. It was like going to a museum and being able to see the great pieces of art. ” Having learned the ins and outs of fine dining, “white tablecloth” wines, Jeremy moved to the West Village’s late Bar Blanc, where he helped develop their beverage program to much critical acclaim. “I was very proud [of Bar Blanc], because the wine list got noticed in the Times and in New York Magazine, ” said Jeremy. While he doesn’t hold an official sommelier certification, “I am blessed with a palate that allows me to taste a wine and say, ‘I think people would like this. ’”It was his innately intuitive palate that caught the attention of an investor —who in 2014 asked Jeremy to open up a new shop in what was previously a commercial studio space known as Veritas Studios (also known as the place where the famous “Mikey Likes It” commercial was filmed, Jeremy told us). Running Veritas gave Jeremy the opportunity to build his own wide-ranging program of wines — and to make them accessible to everyone from novices to seasoned vino vets. “Our categories are about using language that people are familiar with, making people feel comfortable — certainly embracing anybody who walks through the door, ” said Jeremy. “We seem to do well with people who are curious — who are willing to take a risk on something they've never heard of. ” More than anything, he looks forward to guiding patrons through their own wine education, he told us. “I'm involved with our customers’ most important decision of the day, ” said Jeremy. “They’re picking the wine that they're going to go home with to accompany their dinner, the wine that they're going to use to smooth things over with their spouse, the wine that they're going to go celebrate with — or maybe bury their sorrows in, ” he added. “This is the last stop many people make before they go home — and it's a nice thing. ”