A toast to our area’s specialty wine shops.
Big wine warehouses have their place, but if you’re looking for the perfect vintage or unusual appellation to accompany that special meal, visit one of these knowledgeable local wine merchants for the perfect bottle.
By W.R. Tish
These are exciting yet tricky times for wine lovers. Never in history have so many bottles been available from all corners of the globe. The wine landscape is painted with more grapes, more blends, more vineyard designations, more special cuvÃ©es, more funky labelsâ€¦more stuff than ever!
One logical response for the wine enthusiast aiming to make the most of the Brave New World of Wine would be to dive in—headfirst—into a big store, like Wine Warehouse in White Plains, to maximize his or her wine options. At the other extreme, it’s easy enough: grab a bottle at Stew Leonard’s, where a sliver of the wine spectrum is served up at deep discount prices.
But I would contend that the most rewarding wine-shopping experiences in Westchester happen at the dozens of small shops where the wine inventory has been carefully selected—and is supported by both knowledge and passion on the part of the owners and the staff. These shops take wine personally but never too seriously. They know that bang-for-buck and food friendliness are more important than critics’ ratings when it comes to finding bottles to fit your individual taste and budget. And while their shelves may appear lean when compared to a juggernaut like the Westchester Wine Warehouse, they are every bit as capable of delivering interesting, cutting-edge wines to please enthusiasts at every level of wine experience.
Simply put, there are too many wines out there for the average consumer to keep track of; it pays to frequent stores that edit the bulky, unwieldy universe of labels. To compile a “Best Of” list would distract from the big picture, namely that many savvy small-shop owners are applying a personal touch to make local wine-shopping better than ever. If wine enjoyment is a journey, Westchester has plenty of worthy stopping points.
Suburban Wines & Spirits (379 Downing Dr., Yorktown Heights; 914-962-3100; www.suburbanwines.com) is actually a big store that acts like a small one, as is evident in the staff’s expertise, enthusiasm, and lack of attitude. If you don’t feel like chatting, Suburban is still a browser’s paradise. Inventory is deep in high-end Aussie wines, California Cabernets, Pinot Noir, ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape, and Piedmont. Thematic island racks feature great bargains, specific food wines, and seasonal favorites—augmented by handwritten shelf notes—and a literal vault harbors enough trophy wines to make any collector drool. Evening classes and dinners reflect the store’s commitment to wine education (check its website for its Spring 2006 schedule). If you wine-shop a lot, take note: after buying 50 different wines at Suburban, you qualify for “The 50 Club,” good for 10 percent off any bottle and 20 percent off 12 bottles or more. One more sign of the store’s customer-friendly, hands-on approach: if you are looking for a specific wine it doesn’t carry and it’s available in the New York-metro market, the staff won’t hesitate to make a special order.
The two-and-a-half-mile stretch from Mount Kisco to Bedford Hills might as well be paved with Pinot Noir. Four wonderful stores beckon. The Wine Boutique (131 Main St., Mount Kisco; 914-241-9463) is true to its name, specializing in hand-picked wines, some with production as low as 170 cases. Like many fellow Westchester merchants, owner Dan Meltzer holds free in-store tastings every Saturday afternoon starting at one and usually features nibbles to accompany the wines. Up Route 117 in the Target shopping center, John Bueti of Mount Kisco Wines & Spirits (195 N. Bedford Rd.; 914-666-5255) is fond of saying, “Drink the wine, not the label,” meaning that many of the best-made wines are not from the most recognizable wineries or regions. His store is spacious, airy, and inviting, with plenty of discoveries from Italy and California. At Green Lane Wines & Liquors (741 N. Bedford Rd.; 914-666-7272), next to ShopRite in Bedford Hills, Spain is booming, with more than 75 choices, from classic Rioja to upstart regions like Toro, Jumilla, and Priorat. The front of the store is anchored by bargain bins; the back is serious wine country: a wall of West Coast selections, a big section of Italian wines, an entire corner for Champagne, and French racks that show some real vintage depth. A cork’s throw from the Bedford Hills train station at Fountainhead (19 Dept Plaza; 914-244-8973), the nifty selection of well-priced, food-friendly wines is especially strong in Alsace whites. House favorites include Gerard Schueller, Martin Schaetzel, Albert Boxler, and Domaine Weinbach.
At Armonk Wines & Spirits (383 Main St.; 914-273-3044), the store is so compact, you can practically see every wine label from anywhere you stand. The svelte, geographically balanced inventory reflects manager Gary King’s belief that there are plenty of great wines available today in the $10 to $25 range. Some of the store’s hits that keep customers coming back: Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano ($13.99), Ridge “Three Valleys” Zinfandel ($19.99), and ChÃ¢teau Lamothe white Bordeaux ($11.99).
In White Plains, Aries Wine & Spirits (128 W. Post Rd.; 914-946-3382), owners Andrea Kish and Tony Russo have a stable of reliable $8 to $20 table wines—think of them as house wines waiting to happen. And the temperature-controlled wine room is filled with esoteric and cellar-worthy Italian and French gems, many in vintages long gone elsewhere. Examples include 1983 and 1985 Ports, 2000 Bordeaux, and Italian Brunellos dating back to 1997.
Post Wine & Spirits (2112 Boston Post Rd., Larchmont; 914-834-2134) does not specialize in any specific wine type or region, but owner Nancy Heinbockel likes to focus on “small producers who are passionate about what they do.” Food pairing is always front and center at Post. “We don’t just ask what are you serving,” she says. “We’re so bold as to ask, â€˜How are you cooking it?’”
As wine advice goes, Peter Rockwood of Rockwood & Perry in Hastings on Hudson (541 Warburton Ave., 914-478-1028), is a veritable sage, whose knowledge is bolstered by time in France and Italy buying wine directly from small producers. Many of the wines he finds in Tuscany, Piedmont, and the RhÃ´ne Valley are simply not available anywhere else, and they offer exceptional quality relative to price. Rockwood is particularly keen on reds handcrafted by small growers in the hilly Chianti sub-zones of Colli Fiorentini and Colli Sensi. “You get a lot more complexity and they are only a little more expensive,” he says.
Direct imports are also a fixture at Deprez Wine in Croton-on-Hudson (400 S. Riverside Ave.; 914-271-3200). Owner Vincent Deprez notes that this past fall the store celebrated the arrival of the ten thousandth case of direct-import wine. Hot sellers of late include off-the-beaten-path French wines, such as sparkling Vouvray (from Chenin Blanc grapes), Bourgueil (Loirie Valley Cabernet Franc), and RhÃ´ne and Provence reds.
Operating in a century-old restored train station in Croton Falls, Front Street Cellar (3 Front St., Croton Falls; 914-276-0116) embodies owner Dawn Christopher’s belief that the experience of shopping for wine should be as enjoyable as the wine itself. Fluorescent lights are eschewed here in favor of softly lit chandeliers. Christopher makes a conscious effort to avoid mass-produced wines. She organizes the store by grape rather than by region. This lessens the sense of intimidation many people still feel when confronted with European wines, she says, and it makes it easier for her to make recommendations in terms of wine style—using keywords like “juicy,” “crisp,” “big,” etc. Front Street’s periodic tastings at local restaurants are great opportunities to taste a lot of new wines in a relaxed setting (call the store for spring events).
And for those who lean toward collectible wines: Zachys (16 E. Parkway, Scarsdale; 866-922-4971) remains heaven in Scarsdale. Breadth has always been key at Zachys; expect to find dozens of Cabernets, more Shirazes than you can shake a corkscrew at, and Italian wines from places you’ve never heard of. What keeps the collectors tuned in to Zachys is its reputation as an excellent source for Bordeaux futures (cases reserved at pre-release prices). Two other stores in Westchester that may well foster a budding relationship: Grapes The Wine Company (11 Purdy Ave., Rye; 914-967-9245), and The Wine Connection (71 Westchester Ave., Pound Ridge; 914-764-9463). Both feature deep inventories, expert advice, and that certain savoir-faire every wine collector should have on his or her side when seeking out new grape adventures.