Eater wine columnist
Mon Oct 24 2011
Do you remember any epiphanic moments—or memorable bottles—that made you want to work with wine?
Wine has been a part of my life from an early age, but it didn't become a real interest of mine until my junior year at NYU, when I started to play grown-up and do things like not eat a dozen buffalo wings for dinner. I started off hitting the discount rack at Broadway Warehouse Wines & Spirits—essentially the Filene's Basement of wine stores, and not in a good way—and got heavy into things like Smoking Loon; hopefully you don't know what that is. Eventually, I moved on to Astor and into real wines from muscadet, chinon and a variety of cheap regional Italian novelties. But it wasn't until I began working at a restaurant my senior year and participating in staff wine training that I really fell in love.... I graduated and went to Italy, worked the harvest in Piedmont and traveled to every winemaking region I could before running out of money. I came back and have been in wine ever since.
If you had to narrow it down to an elevator pitch, what would you say is your wine philosophy?
I think the greatest thing about wine—about anything artistic—is its ability to inspire a great number of people in very different ways. If I have any philosophy, it's to try and get as close as you can to the romance of wine, its ability to make you feel connected to the earth, to history and—most importantly—to a specific moment in your life. Drink what interests you and be open enough to allow it to impact you.
How do you think wine—and the wine enthusiast—is changing in New York?
The wine bar has sort of become the neopub. Now that they populate every other block in NYC, people seem as comfortable with the idea of going out to a bar for a beer as they do having a couple glasses of wine at a wine bar. A lot of that is thanks to a recent boom that started three years ago with the original Terroir in the East Village. Paul Grieco was really able to lasso a new counterculture with his offbeat evangelism and psychedelic branding. Terroir made wine seem cool and appealing to a wider audience, and the wine bars that came after it have succeeded in building upon that in different ways. To that end, I think the face of the wine enthusiast is becoming far more varied.
For curious drinkers who are still intimidated by a traditional wine list, what's the best way to discover new selections?
This is going to sound like a cop-out, but seriously, talk to the sommelier. The most common misconception is that a sommelier is this glorified server trying to pull the wool over the diner's eyes. But sommeliers, especially in NYC, are some of the most knowledgeable people in wine. If you show genuine interest, nine times out of ten you're going to have someone genuinely interested in teaching you something in return.
What's the best way for a sommelier to ignite your ire?
I am biased, of course, but when it comes to sommelier talent, New York is the greatest city in the world. It's redefined the role in so many ways, and I think we have more great sommeliers than we have stuffy, arrogant ones. So I guess finding a really arrogant sommelier amid a sea of great personalities is the most ire-inspiring thing I can think of. Especially considering that wine is this humbling topic that offers all of us who work with it the opportunity to happily say we don't know it all.
What have you seen around New York lately that's excited you as a wine drinker?
I think restaurants and wine bars set trends, but they also respond to the desires of the consumer. In this post-Terroir era, places like Anfora and Ten Bells are doing great business, and they serve wines that the average consumer might consider off-the-wall. I think the fact that places like this continue to open and restaurant wine lists are becoming more adventurous speaks to the growing openness of the consumer.
What do you think is the next step in NYC's wine evolution?
At the risk of tripping over my own idealism, I'd like to think that sommeliers will continue to become more visible in the press and that people continue to travel to restaurants not just for the food, but also for the beverage program. Beyond that, more wine bars and quirky wine lists and the further development of Brooklyn's wine scene.
We won't make you choose an all-time favorite wine, but what about something you've had recently that everyone needs to know about?
I just got back from a trip to Southern Italy and I feel like I sort of rediscovered the white wines of Campania. When we think of this region, we think of big red wines made from the aglianico grape. But it's a wonderfully varied region that happens to be home to some of Italy's most graceful and inspired white wines. Both fiano di avellino and greco di tufo, grown in a cooler part of Campania called Avellino, are capable of producing incredibly mineral-driven wines that can rival Friuli's best. But greco in particular—from producers like Mastroberardino and Pietracupa—is revelatory in its ability to age. I think they'll only grow in importance as producers strive to discover the true potential of these grapes.
What's your favorite place in the city to drink wine?
I love all of the usual suspects —Terroir, Anfora, Ten Bells—but for me there is nothing better than drinking something great and French while being bathed in that Balthazar brand of preternatural lighting. It has this very special transporting effect. And the wine list remains full of little off-vintage gems at charitable pricing.
What's your favorite wineshop?
I live in Williamsburg, so without question: Uva Wines. Not only is it one of the best wine stores in the city, period, its success gives me hope that Williamsburg will one day become a wine town. I also love Chambers Street. It's far more than just a wine store, it's really this great source of influence within the wine world. The guys behind the store, David Lillie and Jamie Wolff, and their selections have really changed the way many of us drink.