Every type of tippler needs a clubhouse. Beer lovers have spots like Jimmy's No. 43, where a constant lineup of tastings and events connects patrons and producers. Spirits geeks gather for classes at Astor Center and find common ground at the city's new breed of egalitarian cocktail joints. And now, oenophiles have a hangout of their own: Corkbuzz, a much-anticipated hybrid that offers a restaurant, wine bar and educational center within spitting distance of Union Square. With its design-mag decor and $15 glasses of wine, it doesn't quite have the for-the-people edge of Terroir. But the earnest educational angle, as well as the youthful energy of owner Laura Maniec (the world's youngest master sommelier), permeates the place and delivers its own inviting appeal.
DRINK THIS: Before you drink anything, chat with one of the staffers, who preach the Maniec gospel to patrons as they navigate 35 by-the-glass options and around 250 bottles. While the surrogate somms can get a bit gushy ("Laura is super into magnums," exclaimed one waiter as he filled our glass from a large-format bottle), they're a solicitous bunch, and they seem genuinely committed to helping you find something you like. The globe-trotting menu from Hayan Yi (Daniel, Le Bernardin) feels slightly uneven if you're trying to cobble together a full meal, but it lends itself well to pairings. Kumamoto oysters ($15) fried in scallion-pancake batter are forgettable, but they get a zippy boost from bright, acidic muscadets like the 2010 Pépière Clos des Briords ($12 per glass). Better is the stellar bucatini ($15)—fat, butter-drenched strands of pasta tossed with brussels sprouts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, chile oil and lemon juice—which makes a fine match for an assertive Riesling Smaragd from Austria ($18 per glass).
GOOD FOR: With its mash-up approach, Corkbuzz is well suited to a wide range of wine-sipping missions. The comically large wingback chairs in the front are easily one of the comfiest spots to post up for a drink around Union Square. For date night, head to the butcher-block bar or snag one of the tall two-tops along the wall. And if you're rolling deep, gather around the massive, warmly lit communal table in the back.
THE CLINCHER: Corkbuzz kicks off its educational program on January 7, 2012, offering plenty of opportunities to boost your vino IQ in 2012. Check corkbuzz.com for the full slate of classes, which cover topics such as seasonal pairings (Jan 7 11am–12:30pm; $50) and bottles that go well with takeout (Jan 17 7–9pm; $75). If you just want to drink, a regular lineup of happy hours and events is designed to shake you out of your pinot-noir holding pattern. Stop by on Fridays for casual blind tastings (5–6pm), where you can test your palate on a $15 flight of three wines. Or, hit up the monthly BYOB bash ($40) to share bottles with fellow oenophiles while noshing passed hors d'oeuvres.
OVERHEARD: "I want something big, bold and Spanish."—That's what she said (at the wine bar).