Final Say: Interview with Hastings-on-Hudson Resident Paige Donahoo, Certified Wine Specialist at Stew Leonard's in Yonkers, NY

Paige Donahoo, Stew Leonard’s Certified Wine Specialist of Hastings-on-Hudson

How did this career come about?
I was a history teacher for six years—I like to say the kids drove me to drink. But wine was always a pretty serious intellectual pursuit and hobby for me. I answered an ad for my current job and joined Stew’s in 2002.

How does being a high school teacher compare to what you do now?
It’s much easier to teach adults who like to come to class and like to learn—and there are not as many behavioral issues. Wine makes people happy; what’s not to like?

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Where do you enjoy traveling the most for your work?
Spain—the Spanish wine industry is really coming back.

Is the popularity of wine in this country on the upswing?
Definitely. As of this year, the United States is number one in the world in the consumption of wine. Italy used to be first—now it is second.

What distinguishes a good wine from a great wine?
It’s the difference between a hamburger and filet mignon. A great wine surprises you with every sip—there’s a greater complexity.

How much alcohol—and what kind—do you drink when you are not working?
I generally drink one or two glasses of wine with dinner. One of my favorites is Chablis—a crisp, dry, and mineral-driven Chardonnay from Burgundy in France.

What do you recommend for a great inexpensive wine?
One of our bestselling wines is a Malbec from Las Leñas in Argentina, which we sell for six ninety-nine a bottle.

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What are some of your favorite local restaurants to enjoy wine?
There’s a little restaurant in Hastings—Juniper—that doesn’t have a liquor license. For a small corkage fee, they let you bring your own bottle, which is particularly nice for me—because when you go to a restaurant, you are paying two or three times more than retail. It drives me crazy.

What local restaurants’ wine cellars do you think are particularly good?
X2O in Yonkers has a great wine list, and Tarry Lodge in Port Chester and The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry have good selections of reasonably priced, primarily Italian wines.  

What do you think about the current legal drinking age of twenty-one?
I think if people can go to war and get killed at age eighteen, they should be able to drink wine.

How do you approach drinking with your own children?
My teenage daughter is not allowed to drink until she is twenty-one. When she was nine, my dad once asked her how her lemonade was and she said it was very well balanced.

What’s your favorite white wine? And red?
We’ve got a great bottle of Chardonnay from the Olivier Leflaive Winery in the Chablis region of France that is twenty-two ninety-nine. And we have an Atticus John Cabernet Sauvignon from California’s Napa Valley that’s twenty-seven dollars.

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What’s the most expensive bottle of wine sold at Stew’s?
A Pétrus Bordeaux merlot red grape, at three thousand four hundred dollars. We usually sell a few bottles of it each year.

Is there a future for twist-off top wines?
Yes—and they are definitely increasing in popularity. Bacteria sometimes get into the bottle through the cork, which can impart a musty or wet-wool aroma to the wine.

photo by John Rizzo

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