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Finding the Perfect Bottle: NYC’s Wine Shops

Written by: Isabelle Banin. Published: July 30, 2023.

The experts running the wine shops of Manhattan are eager to share their knowledge and help you find the perfect bottle for any occasion. Visit Bottle Rocket, Empire State of Wine, Italian Wine Merchants, and Acker Wines to start off your wine shop tour.

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Empire State of Wine 1 Liquor Stores Wine Shops Flatiron Chelsea

Empire State of Wine

Eddy Le Garrec is the vinous hero that New York needs and deserves. To step into his store, Empire State of Wine, is to step into a different dimension; one where gouging is a forbidden practice, 90+ point wine is affordable for anyone with twelve dollars to spare, and bottles that are impossible to import are stacked for sale. Eddy himself bubbles with impatient energy. He knows that the quality and price of his product are unprecedented in Manhattan. Eddy has cracked the code of selling affordable wine in the United States, where a five-euro bottle often ends up costing twenty-five dollars. During the hour we spent in conversation, Eddy gave me a peek behind the curtain of his business. We were constantly on the move as he nudged me along with a gentle hand, gesturing to emphasize his words, but I found that in addition to his passion, there was something more inscrutable, perhaps a world-weary or melancholy note. As it turns out, Eddy Le Garrec has lived a life of emotional highs and lows. From LA to Vegas to Miami, and then New York, his is a story worth hearing. Born in France, Eddy traveled to Los Angeles at the age of twenty-five. “I had a contract with a restaurant for one week and while I was there, an incredible thing happened. I won the green card lottery. I was lucky. Stupid lucky. So I said okay, I’m staying, and I fell in love with the country. ” Eddy’s family growing up was in the restaurant business, and he found himself in the right place at the right time to thrive in the US. “It was the 1990’s and the beginning of the wine boom, where Americans were growing interested in collecting and learning about wines. ” Eddy then casually mentioned that he worked at the legendary L'Orangerie. “I waited on all of the Hollywood stars. I have a story for every single one. ”Next came a move to Las Vegas where he followed the same chef who had brought him to LA. “I stayed for two years and directed the opening of several restaurants and hotels. It wasn’t what I loved but looking back, it goes to show nothing is ever a waste of time. I also learned to play poker. But I don’t do that anymore. ” Unfortunately, Eddy also made some mistakes in his love life, bad enough to elicit a pained look on his face even today. It was time for a fresh start. After two years of Vegas, Eddy ran off to Florida. “When I moved to South Beach, there was no real wine culture in Miami. I realized I could start up my own brick and mortar, and W Wine was almost immediately a success. That was in 2006. What’s amazing is that I modeled my store, and even this store today, around this Vegas model. It is open, not intimidating or stuffy. The warehouse look is what I want. Customers come in and it makes my day when they say they’ve never seen a wine store like this before. You’ll also see I have the expensive stuff up front that people will walk past to reach the more affordable options, and when they get there they are relieved. It is like finding the slot machines. ”The slot machines, in Eddy’s case, are his “15 and Under” series, a bright display he sees as one of his biggest successes. Categorized by flavor profile (Bubbly, Fresh, Crisp, Buttery/Creamy, Light Body, Medium Body, Full Body) and with plenty of information at hand to read, anyone can come in and make an informed choice on a great wine. There might be one or two wines in each category, all handpicked by Eddy for their quality and price. “I used to get angry about people copying this idea, ” Eddy told me, “but not anymore because in the end, I know nobody can do what I do, nobody. ” Yuriel, one of Eddy’s employees nodded emphatically from behind the register. “Nobody, ” he agreed. Eddy was approached by a Canadian company that wanted to buy out his Miami store. “At first I did not want to, but I took a look at the check and was like wow. But then things did not go so well. Their plan was to merge my store with a separate online platform. I was working all the time on my computer, constantly working, and I was very unhappy. In the end, I and the other CEOs were fired because they needed more Canadians on the payroll. It was a hard time. ” At this point, Eddy ran a hand through his thick black hair. “I then went into a depression. It took me five years to wake up. ” During that period, Eddy felt it was time for another change of scene. “I moved to New York and even went back to school where I studied documentary film. One day I will use what I learned. Nothing goes to waste. ” But Eddy could not stay far from wine for too long. After a series of real estate transactions, he found himself owner of the Chelsea storefront property that would become Empire State of Wine. In a stroke of luck that echoed his green card jackpot of years ago, Eddy was granted a liquor license in what seemed like a record time of three months. “Boom, I was in business. Incredible. ” This time though, Eddy worked in reverse. He began by building his website. Even there, the aesthetics are meant to promote the sort of open and honest wine culture that Eddy is passionate about. In today’s world of online retail, he has no pretensions about the brick and mortar side of business. But it gives him an opportunity to meet people. “I love helping customers learn about the magic of wine. I also love demystifying it. In the end it is grape juice. Drink it! Enjoy it! ”

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Italian Wine Merchants 1 Wine Shops Gramercy

Italian Wine Merchants

Sergio Esposito, widely considered among the premier authorities on Italian wine, shares his vast expertise with New Yorkers at this boutique shop in Union Square. Calling Italian Wine Merchants a shop may be a misnomer, however, as its shelves are almost bare. “People walk in and ask if we’re going out of business, ” joked IWM President Christopher Deas, who explained that their impressive inventory of wines from every region of Italy, parts of France, and beyond is stored in a downstairs cellar. “The upstairs is more of a showroom. We really believe in temperature control. ”Those who enter IWM can rest assured that they are in good hands, as Christopher maintained that the shop was the first in the city to specialize in Italian wine. Since the beginning, they have stocked both “wines that have become icons as well as bottles from tiny, artisanal producers that were being overlooked. ”Sergio’s strength was in scouring the nooks and crannies of Italy and bringing the wines back to New York. Much of IWM’s collection of vintage wines is thanks to Sergio’s efforts, who tracked down Italian restaurants that were about to shutter and picked through the contents of their cellars. Although they tend to cater to the avid wine collector, Italian Wine Merchants have wine for every palette and budget - from $15 to $15, 000. For those who would like to improve on their wine education, IWM offers a weekly Saturday afternoon wine tasting. Customers are encouraged to peruse the calendar online and then to sign up for what seems appealing. Either their in-house "educator" or an expert from a particular vineyard leads the class. Private events can also be arranged for large gatherings, as well as intimate wine-tasting dinners led by their sommelier. Italian Wine Merchants rocks the senses with an eating and drinking experience not to be missed.

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Acker Merrall & Condit Company 1 Wine Shops Founded Before 1930 Family Owned Upper West Side

Acker Wines

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.

While all Manhattan wine shops offer great wines, each has its own unique niche and business approach. On 19th Street, Bottlerocket organizes wine both by the traditional alphabetized by country and by categories like "Gifts" and "Seafood." Empire State of Wine on 23rd Street places an emphasis on sourcing great wines from all over the world at a variety of price points. If you prefer Italian wines, Italian Wine Merchants on 16th Street stocks both iconic wines and overlooked bottles from tiny, artisanal producers. And last but not least, Acker Wines on 72nd Street, the oldest wine merchant in America, offers a wide variety of fine wines and tastings every day.

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MCF Rare Wine, LTD.

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. ”

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Veritas Studio Wines

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. ” 

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Eataly NYC Flatiron

In January of 2007, Oscar Farinetti founded the first Eataly in Turin, Italy, specializing in quality Italian goods. Under B& B Hospitality, the marketplace has since expanded throughout the United States. The first New York City location opened in the summer of 2010 near the iconic Flatiron building, and an expansion has been planed in the Financial District for 2016. Strolling through the epicurean haven, I saw a dazzling array of artfully displayed gourmet products. The produce section alone reaped multiple varieties of earthy mushrooms, vibrant stone fruits, and luscious greens. The cotton candy grapes and sea beans were astoundingly similar in flavor to their namesakes. Other sights included a traditional espresso bar, a butcher counter with cuts from sustainable farms, and a station entirely devoted to making mozzarella, turning out two to three hundred pounds daily. Above, ornate ceilings accentuated these wonders, paying homage to the building’s previous life as a luxury hotel. “Eataly is the gallery, the producers are the artists, and the products are the art, ” explained Italian-born Dino Borri, Eataly’s brand ambassador. He got his start working under the founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Pertrini, at the age of fourteen, eventually helping to open an Eataly branch in Japan. He is now based in New York as a major product buyer. He still, however, visits Italy frequently. The gallery analogy is a perfect metaphor, especially since Eataly advocates for small businesses by clearly crediting them with their products and financially sponsoring projects to accelerate capacity growth. “The majority of our products come from Italy, but we also get some locally, ” Dino told me. Some of the local sourcing has to do with shipment restrictions - salami and unpasteurized cheese are not allowed to cross over the borders, but primarily the goal is to find the freshest ingredients. One of the benefiters from Eataly's work with local businesses has been Wild Hive Farm, a small farm from Upstate New York with organic, stone-ground bread. GuS Soda also met immense popularity after hitting Eataly’s spotlight, and local farmers turn to the marketplace for a steadier income source than farmers’ markets. However, it is not just the labeling of product origins that keeps shoppers at Eataly informed. Cooking classes are offered regularly at La Scuola, recipes are provided with many of the meals, and various signs give product tips and facts. “The olive oil expert can go on for over twenty minutes in a discussion of delicate, grassy, and herbaceous varieties, ” stated PR Associate Brianna Buford, “he knows the proper tasting techniques. ” I am sure the vinegar expert is just as well trained. Passing by the highly specialized eateries, my cravings constantly wavered between savory and sweet. The newest edition when I visited in the summer of 2015, the Nutella bar, features a constantly running chocolate hazelnut fountain, ready to be poured on a bounty of appetizing creations. In the bakery section, I learned that all the hearth-baked breads come from the same “mother yeast. " Nearby, serving some of the best pasta and perfectly charred Napoli-style pizza pies in Manhattan is La Pizza & La Pasta. During my discussion with Dino, he told me, "We really made this store for ourselves. " He declared himself a primary customer for Eataly, saying, “We are what we eat. ” It is less about the fancy products than about having everything be “good, clean, fair, ” and having something for every price point. “We have introduced a new way of eating, ” he smiled. He is glad that others have begun to mimic Eataly's highly successful marketplace model, since it means increased quality for everyone. While spending hours touring Eataly, I sampled the food at some of the eateries. A favorite was the zucchini Carpaccio with fried capers, toasted pine nuts, soft white cheese, and fresh mint at Le Verdure, a veggie-centric eatery that has been a go-to place for me since it first opened. After trying the Pesce Crudo Trio, including raw pink snapper, swordfish, and steelhead trout, from Il Pesce, my photographer, Tom, exclaimed, “this is fresher than the fish my dad caught and cooked last night. ” The Manhattan Sideways Team finished off with a necessary treat at Il Gelato. By providing quality flavor, supporting small farmers and educating shoppers, Eataly has truly maximized their slogan “Eat. Shop. Learn. ”