Wine game-changers

There's a revolution afoot within NYC's vino scene. TONY examines some key moments of the past decade.

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  • 1999--2000 Screw caps emerge
    Old vine snobs may still turn up their noses at a screw-cap bottle, but the alternative to cork has been gaining steam for more than a decade. These tops originated in 1960s France, when manufacturer Le Bouchage Mcanique decided to tweak its line of spirit caps so that they could be used for wines. The simple closure might not have the same tableside romance of the traditional method, but vintners also found it reduced the chance of spoilage that the bacteria-prone cork can cause. Australians adopted it early on to solve their cork-rot problems, and today many leading producers use it. The screw-cap bottle arrived on New York's fine-dining circuit via four-star French stalwart Jean Georges: The restaurant put its first screw-cap bottle, a PlumpJack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997 from California, on the list more than a decade ago. The city's other temples of haute cuisine (Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin and others) have followed suit.

  • Windows on the World Wine School

    February 2002 Windows on the World Wine School finds a new home
    Wine director Kevin Zraly's down-to-earth approach to wine education has inspired generations of enthusiasts and industry leaders---including the former French Culinary Institute's wine dean Andrea Robinson---to pursue their passion. For 25 years, he held classes for his celebrated Windows on the World Wine School on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. The 9/11 attacks took down the towers, the wine school's original home and a 50,000-bottle cellar with them, but a shaken Zraly, who had lost many colleagues and friends, soldiered on. The following February he moved his beloved school, which kept its name to honor the restaurant's legacy, to the Marriott Marquis (1535 Broadway between 45th and 46th Sts, 212-398-1900), where he continues to preach his accessible grape gospel today. Visit kevinzraly.com for enrollment information.

  • Wine Berry

    March 2004 Fancy boxed wines arrive in NYC
    Over the past few years, once reviled bag-in-a-box wine has spiffed up its image with snazzier packaging and higher-quality juice. According to Marnie Old, author of Wine Secrets and an instructor at the Astor Center, the trend started when Black Box Wines debuted a premium product at a higher price point, changing the public's perception of the delivery system (it arrived on NYC shelves in March 2004). The technology, an airtight bag that deflates as wine is dispensed, has advanced since Australian winemaker Thomas Angove patented the first prototype in 1965. It's a good thing Americans are getting over their Franzia-clouded bias: Boxed wine---which has been accepted in Australia, New Zealand and France's casual drinking cultures for some time---is affordable and eco-friendly, takes up less refrigerator space and stays fresh for up to one month. Recently, a group of upmarket brands have joined Black Box, including the handsome wood-encased Wineberry and From the Tank, which is packed in a stylish cardboard carton.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    David Lombardo

    March 2004 Landmarc champions affordable wine programs
    Years before tap wine and tattooed sommeliers were the norm, Marc Murphy raised eyebrows with his unorthodox beverage program---one that promoted casual wine drinking with affordable pricing---at the first location of his rollicking bistro Landmarc (179 West Broadway between Leonard and Worth Sts, 212-343-3883). He did away with wines by the glass because he hated the idea of serving guests spoiled vino, a common occurrence when open bottles sit around for days. Instead, Murphy and his beverage director, David Lombardo, offered a wide selection of half bottles (375ml, or 2.5 glasses), banking on big volume sales to offset their low prices (the 300-bottle list debuted with markups so low that they were met with disbelief by many guests). Customers responded to the egalitarian approach: The restaurant ended up moving so much inventory that Lombardo was able to convince topflight producers to put their stuff in half bottles---a rare find when Landmarc first opened. Seven years later, all four of Murphy's venues (including a Time Warner Center Landmarc spin-off and two Ditch Plains locations) are still abiding by the original philosophy, and inspiring other restaurants to find affordable solutions for their imbibing clientele.

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Appellation Wine Shop

    September 2005 Natural wines get a shop all their own
    Today, locavores can find plenty of eco-friendly vino to pair with their Greenmarket eats. It wasn't so when Scott Pactor---a finance guy turned assistant wine director at Balthazar---opened the city's first natural-wine--focused store, Appellation Wine & Spirits (156 Tenth Ave between 19th and 20th Sts, 212-741-9474). The pioneering Chelsea storefront offered an inventory of three-quarters organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines. Pactor felt these offerings better reflected terroir because their production included a minimal amount of human interference (added sulfites, pesticides, etc.). Since Pactor first stocked his shelves with green producers, a number of wine stores (such as Natural Wine Co.) and bars (Ten Bells and the Tangled Vine among them) have followed his lead.

  • Terrior

    June 2008 Summer of Riesling launches at Terroir
    Madcap sommelier Paul Grieco shocked traditionalists with a radical move at the original Terroir (413 E 12th St between First Ave and Ave A, wineisterroir.com): Despite protestations by his partner, Marco Canora, Grieco eliminated all white wine by-the-glass options except riesling for a full 94 days of summer. The aggressive maneuver baffled guests ("What do you mean you have no glasses of chardonnay?") and the servers who thought they were in the business of pleasing them. But Grieco, a riesling fanatic, felt that the only way to get customers to try this unsung varietal (often, and unfairly, derided as too sweet) and see the full range of its potential was to take away the more familiar choices. Four years later, Summer of Riesling is still going strong---at two Terroir locations and a third Murray Hill spot joining the fray next year---and it went national this past season, with more than 222 bars and restaurants promoting the varietal. More importantly, Grieco proved that a sommelier could use a curated list as a tool to encourage guests to test new waters.

  • City Winery

    December 2008 The dawn of the urban winery
    Oenophiles don't have to travel to Napa or North Fork vineyards anymore to get an inside peek of a crush facility, thanks to Michael Dorf. The Knitting Factory founder, who fell in love with vinification at Ridge Winery in California, brought winemaking to the urban masses right in the heart of Manhattan with the opening of City Winery (155 Varick St at Vandam St, 212-608-0555) in 2008. Wanna-be winemakers with  $5,000--$10,000 to burn can create their own vintage in the barrel (the equivalent of 252 bottles). Less flush drinkers can sip the in-house label while listening to live music in the concert dining room or in the Barrel Room restaurant on site. Since City Winery opened, the urban-vintner trend continues to boom with the recent debut of places like Brooklyn Winery, where you can also make your own wine with California and New York grapes. At Brooklyn Oenology and the Red Hook Winery---which is backed by vineyard heavyweights Mark Snyder, Abe Schoener and Robert Foley---pros take care of the production with local crops.

  • City Winery

    May 2009 Tap wine takes off
    It's fitting that the first New York restaurant to open with dedicated wine taps, formerly a beer-only setup, was brewcentric DBGB Kitchen and Bar (299 Bowery at Houston St, 212-933-5300). Then--wine director Colin Alevras discovered wine on tap during a trip to California, at Santa Monica's Father's Office, where owner Sang Yoon improved on the old spigoted barrels found in Europe's ancient winemaking regions with new technology (gasses like nitrogen or argon displace oxygen and its souring effects). DBGB's specialized lines, which can withstand the higher acidity of wine, were slightly more costly to install than standard beer tubing, but the expense was offset by the cheaper kegs that keep wine fresh for much longer than opened bottles. No local wineries were filling kegs when DBGB opened, and shipping casks back-and-forth across the country didn't make sense, so the restaurant used all 24 lines for beer until May 2010, when Red Hook Winery debuted its first vintage of riesling in the keg. Other venues, like City Winery, beat DBGB to the punch on actually dispensing the stuff through a spout, but it was Alevras who got the city buzzing about it. More than a dozen restaurants and bars, including the Breslin Bar & Dining Room and Osteria Morini, now offer wines on tap.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Wine, Coenobium Rusticum

    Sept 2010 Orange wines bust up the red-or-white divide
    For decades, red and white were the only color categories on restaurant wine lists. Then orange debuted. Edgier sommeliers seeking offbeat selections began slipping a bottle or two onto lists starting in 2003. The wines, made via a centuries-old method native to Italy and the Republic of Georgia, are produced in a similar manner to reds: The skins macerate with the juice for a few days, tingeing the white-grape wines a darker hue and lending them some tannins. It could have been a passing curiosity, just one of the many new discoveries for enterprising wine directors, but in September 2010, Joe Campanale brought oranges into the mainstream by giving them their own section on the menu of his popular Dell'anima (38 Eighth Ave at Jane St, 212-366-6633). He dubbed the section of 10 to 12 bottles "cellar temperature whites," because they are served at 55-60 degrees---the same temp as most reds. Dell'anima isn't the only restaurant giving orange wines the marquee treatment---St. Anselm reopened with an orange category on its vino list in June 2011, and DBGB Kitchen and Bar added its own five months ago.

  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Belinda Chang

    May 2011 The rise of the female sommelier
    It used to be that when a female sommelier showed up at a table, she was received with wide-eyed bewilderment, but the explosion of women in wine over the past decade has changed the formerly male-dominated field. Women now lead some of New York's top programs: Laura Maniec, currently the world's youngest master sommelier, will soon open much-anticipated wine bar and education center Corkbuzz; Theresa Paopao serves as the wine director for the still white-hot Momofuku empire; Claire Paparazzo of Blue Hill and Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate are leading the natural-wine charge; and Jordan Salcito, who oversees the cellar at sceney uptown eatery Crown, just launched Bellus, her own line of wines, this fall. The girl power reached a fever pitch in May 2011, when one of the industry's highest honors, the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Wine Service accolade, was awarded to Belinda Chang at the Modern.

1999--2000 Screw caps emerge
Old vine snobs may still turn up their noses at a screw-cap bottle, but the alternative to cork has been gaining steam for more than a decade. These tops originated in 1960s France, when manufacturer Le Bouchage Mcanique decided to tweak its line of spirit caps so that they could be used for wines. The simple closure might not have the same tableside romance of the traditional method, but vintners also found it reduced the chance of spoilage that the bacteria-prone cork can cause. Australians adopted it early on to solve their cork-rot problems, and today many leading producers use it. The screw-cap bottle arrived on New York's fine-dining circuit via four-star French stalwart Jean Georges: The restaurant put its first screw-cap bottle, a PlumpJack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997 from California, on the list more than a decade ago. The city's other temples of haute cuisine (Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin and others) have followed suit.

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