Enigmatic names and high-art labels; small producers, single vineyards, wine for girls, for animal lovers, for locavores; box wines and bio wines, cult wines and the Next Big Bargain wines. “So much wine and so little time,” to paraphrase Orson Welles. And too much decision-making too. Even the most knowledgeable wine lover can’t know every bottle out there. There are half-bottles and magnums, Merlots and Meritages, Blaufrankischs and Bordeaux, Syrahs and Shiraz, varietals, vintages, and Viogniers out there. How are you supposed to choose?
The best way may be to choose the right store. Small or large? Well, they each have their advantages. It’s true that large-scale wine stores have the purchasing power to offer deals, especially on widely distributed, “standard brand” wines. Those may be fine by you for your medicinal “glass a day.” But to winnow down the choices and appreciate the fun of the find, it’s worth looking for and cultivating trusted experts at a small, nearby wine shop. Through their connections and their expertise, you can be guided towards lesser chateaux, new regions and small producers, offering value-driven, well-priced and more interesting wines.
Despite currency changes and fuel surcharges, table-wine consumption in the U.S. began an uninterrupted climb in 1994. Consumption has grown every year since, with an all-time record 269 million cases of table wine in 2007 estimated to have been consumed in the U.S., and adult per capita consumption estimated at a new record of 3.02 gallons. “Immediate prospects for continued growth are excellent,” according to the Wine Market Council.
Wine connoisseur John Crabtree, owner of Crabtree’s Kittle House, which houses a legendary cellar, makes the analogy between the small wine shop owner and an independent bookstore owner; both know the story of every book or bottle. In a small wine shop, as in a small bookstore, you enjoy discovering, Crabtree says, “the little treasure that’s been overlooked or undervalued.”
Here are the wine shops in which you can find little treasures in our county.
Cross River Wine Merchant
Cross River Shopping Center, Rte 35 and 121 N, Cross River
“We only sell products we try and believe in,” says owner Mike Novak of the store he opened in 2004. So don’t look for Yellow Tail in his shop. “They produce a billion bottles a year,” he says. “We prefer to buy from smaller, family-owned producers, like Herman Wiemer from the Finger Lakes region; Albet i. Noya, an organic winery outside Barcelona; and Vina Robles, from California.” In addition to wines, the 1,400-square-foot shop also has the largest collection of single malts in the county.
Dodds Liquor City
Millwood Shopping Center, Millwood
Keep your arms close to your sides here; bottles are stacked tightly in this quirky older shop with many fans. It’s known for “consumer-friendly” advertised bargains; advice can be spotty but values reliable. Owner Dodd Farber is adamant that you “cannot correlate wine quality with price.” What you buy here, you’ll probably drink now.
19 Depot Plz, Bedford Hills
This original and spare shop is connected to the wine shop of the same name and the hip pizzeria Fat Cat Pie Company in Norwalk, Connecticut. The friendly, casual co-owner Mike Pelletier is full of insider tips, small-producer finds, and first-hand knowledge of what he sells. “We take everything home and drink it and then we buy for our own palates.” All three partners are especially good at recommending wine pairings for your meals. Try one of their well-priced and interesting Fat Cat label wines, such as Fat Cat 420, a food-friendly, Rhone-style blend from Sonoma and Mendocino, created for the shop by Fred Peterson, a well-established California winemaker. One caveat though: Allergic to felines? Beware.
731 N Broadway, White Plains
Daniel Posner’s new space, opened last March, is accessible and comfortable for browsing and, says Glenn Vogt, managing partner at Crabtree’s Kittle House, “beautifully laid out.” Grapes relocated from Rye so Posner can move out from behind his computer for a stronger retail presence. Using his collector networks and industry connections, Posner says, “My goal is to get you anything you want.” While much of his business is still over the Internet, the 1,600 square feet of floor space here communicates to his customers that his store is “serious.” Posner cut his teeth with big-time collectors and wine wheeler-dealers. Check out the oversized bottles displayed under dramatic lighting in the fine wine room. He also knows value and can talk to you about “impeccably chosen” Australian as well as French wines.
410 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck
Brian Maurice had to live through floods to get his shop off the ground. Maurice studied wine (and food) in Paris and Bordeaux and bought French wines for Zachys. His contacts on the high end of the business support his sales to collectors and other e-commerce businesses, but familiarity with small vineyards, value pricing, and sure-handed pairing suggestions mean you’ll love becoming a regular here.
Le Wine Shop
1934 Palmer Ave, Larchmont
Etienne Touzot moved his Larchmont shop across the street to roomier quarters that accommodate his American customers’ style of browsing. Of course, he still sells to the French community in Larchmont, but he understands the New World as well and can pair value wines to food with the best of them. Touzot features an increasing number of biodynamic and/or organic wines. He is looking to South Africa in the future for quality Sauvignon Blancs and to Chile and Argentina, where the wine industries have European roots. The French accents are free here.
34 Main St, Dobbs Ferry
Opened in December 2006, owner Roger Bohmrich’s hybrid store—half office, half wine shop—is the American home base for Millesima, the largest mail-order wine business in Europe. “It’s almost a virtual store,” says Bohmrich. His stock is five times what is shelved in the shop. Bohmrich has “privileged sourcing” based on years of experience as an importer from France and offers impeccable expert wine transport and storage.
Mount Kisco Wine & Spirits
195 N Bedford Rd, Mount Kisco
Knowledgeable and connected owner John Bueti “has a great palate,” says Vogt of the Kittle House. Bueti’s personal bias is Europe—even for Thanksgiving he recommended French Burgundy—but the California cult Cabs he carries are impressive, such as Bryant Family Vineyard 2005, Merus 2005, and Blankiet Paradise Hill Vineyard 2002. He can recommend value finds from Argentina too. Check out the wide selection of bubbly too; Bueti’s favorite is pink. The spacious and pleasant shop has a full kitchen so customers can try food pairings as they taste.
Ralph’s Wines & Spirits
498 Forest Ave, Rye
This tiny shop, with its bright red storefront and view of Playland, is the first retail effort of ultra-connected wine guy Ralph Hersom. He was cellar master at Windows on the World as a very young sommelier and went on to man the list at Le Cirque 2000. Katonah-based wine writer W. R. Tish (who writes this magazine’s “Booze Buzz” column every month) feels Hershom makes the size of the shop work for him with a best selection rather than a wide selection, still including a reasonable range of price points and regions. He’s carved out onsite storage and a comfortable room for his weekend tastings. Try one of his new line of grab-and-go “Wines That Love,” designed with specific food pairings in mind and adorable graphics, all $11.99.
Rochambeau Wines & Liquors
389 Broadway, Dobbs Ferry
Thirty-two years on the same corner and the shop feels Old School: worn wooden shelving and crowded aisles. But just get the wine geeks talking “Grenache,” and you’ll be off on a tour of the world’s wine regions. Expect an education, as well as depth in French wines and reasonable Italian choices. “For a shop this size, the number of wines available is fantastic,” says Ned Towle, founder of the Westchester Wine School. “Their secret is displaying only three or four bottles of each wine on the shelves with backup bottles quickly accessible by staff in their cave downstairs. They have high-end and value wines in every category. Owner Dieter Kannapin, his son Derek, and shop manager Jeffrey Wooddy know each wine in the shop.”
171 E Post Rd, White Plains
This franchise operation has design features that make choosing easy. The signature ”wine barometer” under the tasting notes of each wine gives customers a comparative read on the body and flavor of the wines, which are arranged from the front to the back of the store to ascend in strength. Vino 100 helps to make wine more approachable with more than 100 wines under $25. “Wine isn’t snobbish anymore,” says owner Stuart Levine. Vino 100 focuses on well-priced wines from all major regions; you can trust their recommendations, you won’t spend a fortune, and you might learn something.
Vintology Wine & Spirits
10 Palmer Ave, Scarsdale
Open just since last September, this teensy but lovely shop also counts on owner Dean Morretta’s long experience in every aspect of the industry, including time at Zachys. The shop is charming and low-key. “Want to try a great Bordeaux?” asked Morretta. And for $21 the Château de Parenchere Cuvee Raphael 2005 was a terrific find. Morretta will often open a bottle for the curious, too.
Wine at Five
4 Purchase St, Rye
Cai Palmer is passionate. “I don’t want us to awake up one day saying, ‘Remember what wine used to taste like?’” Palmer gives preference to producers who make fewer than 5,000 cases a year, yet prices in the shop range from $10 to $150. “I introduce people to wines they’ve never seen before, handmade by artisan winemakers who respect wine.” He also writes “the most charming newsletter in winedom,” says Towle of the Westchester Wine School. Palmer has made sure the shop is big enough for strollers since women buy most of the wine.
The Wine Connection
32 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge
The Wine Connection recently moved down the road from dark, cramped quarters to a roomy, well-lit, expressly built space. “Besides having a well-chosen selection of current releases, they also deal in the old and rare wines,” says the Kittle House’s Vogt. The retail selection is impressive and accessible too. You won’t find many bottles under $12 but “a very strong selection of high-end wines. Definitely keep an eye out for their sales!” says Colman.
When only a magnum-sized shop (and selection) will do.
Stew Leonard’s (1 Stew Leonard Dr, Yonkers 914- 375-4700) and VARMAX LIQUOR PANTRY (16 Putnam Ave, Port Chester 914-937-4930) are “hard to beat,” says Ned Towle of the Westchester Wine School, “for a wide selection of good, under-twenty wines.” It’s easy to ignore their warehouse atmosphere when you’re saving on standard brands or wines for a party.
Suburban (Rte 118 Downing Dr, Yorktown Heights 914-962-3100) is the Zachys of Northern Westchester, minus the auction action. Westchester Wine School’s Ned Towle praises Suburban for “high-energy customer service, customer outreach, wine classes, and wine events.” Look for knowledgeable staff, who have tasted what they recommend; many picks under $15, under $30, and under $50. Suburban also carries a strong selection from quirky, small distilleries and single malts.
Westchester Wine Warehouse (53 Tarrytown Rd, White Plains 914-824-1400). Opened in 2002, this is the biggest wine shop in the county with 11,000 square feet and about 7,000 SKUs. Director of Wine Joseph Opalka carries it all, from popular items to handcrafted varieties and “stocks by taste, not price.” Overwhelmed? Don’t just pick a pretty label; Opalka and his staff can help you find value at every price point.
Zachys (16 E Parkway, Scarsdale 914-723-0241) is a major player in the world of wine with a worldwide reputation. The second generation of the Zacharia family are respected auctioneers and the business has vast access, thoroughly trained staff, and even own-label wines on the low end. Proprietors of many of the area’s smaller shops earned their wine stripes at Zachys.
Frequent weekend tastings are great ways to check out wine shops. “One quirk of New York wine retail law that really benefits consumers is that retailers are prohibited to charge for in-store tastings,” says South Salem-based wine expert Tyler Colman, PhD, known as Dr. Vino (drvino.com). “So take advantage of free tastings, mostly on weekends, to gain tasting experience on someone else’s tab!”
Judith Hausman writes about food and wine in South Salem. She’s partial to Pinot Noir.