Tag Archives: wine shops

THE HARLEM WINE SCENE – IT’S CHANGING

We stayed at Daughter #1’s Harlem apartment while in town for two weeks to celebrate daughter #2’s graduation, so I thought I would explore the rapidly changing wine and restaurant scene south of 135th Street. The past few years have seen a number of new restaurants and wine shops open here. Many are worth a visit.

The NYTimes recently did an article on Harlem’s French Renaissance (LINK) – and we ate at four of the restaurants featured there. Also, there are some good wine shops which are bringing a greater appreciation for wine to the area.

Harlem is changing, and relatively fast. Real estate prices in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn are driving younger people here to more affordable housing. With that influx come two things – the dilution of the African-American Harlem culture and the rise of gentrification. The newer restaurants reflect these two things, and the area is not without some tension as a result. But crime is down, there are more shopping and dining options, properties are being renovated, and there is some good in that. This transition period between what Harlem was and what it is becoming, is a time for pioneers to try new things. And the restaurant and wine scenes are full of pioneers.

WINE SHOPS

I visited three wine shops during my stay. There are others, and my apologies for not finding and exploring them all. As readers of this blog know, I am an advocate of local wine shops and using the expertise of the staff in selecting wines to purchase. These shops have that expertise, if not great depth of selection from any region. If you want greater depth, the amazing shops of lower Manhattan are not that far away.

BTL (LINK) at 311 W 127th Street, has a connection with Maison Harlem bar and restaurant across the street. Run by French expats, both establishments offer French wines (and others). BTL is offering value-priced wines for the most part, and has a few New York wines in stock along with selections from the Old and New Worlds. I purchased a nice Gigondas red and a New York Finger Lakes Chardonnay here.

The Winery (LINK) at 257 W 116th Street has a few hundred bottles in stock (and a sister store in Tokyo). There is a temperature controlled case with high-end wines – the best selection of this level of wine that I saw, and cubbies with a bottle displayed upright and others laying down behind it – each with a good description of the wine displayed. There are wines from the old world and the new, decent selections of each in a variety of price ranges. Weekly wine tastings are a good way for locals to learn about less well-known wines stocked here or to expand their palates a bit. Eric White, the manager, brings a wealth of knowledge about his wines and the wine world in general – and selects the wines for the weekend tastings with care. I was very impressed with this shop, and found a couple of very nice Italian wines to take home.

Harlem Vintage (LINK) on Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 121st Street has been in business for over 7 years. Owner and former Wall Street exec Eric Woods stocks a variety of interesting wines – some I knew and many I did not, from the Old and New Worlds. We had a good conversation and Eric shows a good knowledge of the wines he stocks and the wine world in general. Like the other shops, there is a good variety of countries and regions to choose from, but little depth from any of them, which likely reflects a good assessment of the wine-purchasing public in the area at this point.

RESTAURANTS/WINE BARS

Expect high mark-ups on bottles and glasses of wine in Harlem – meaning it’s like most of Manhattan. Using my Delectable App (LINK), I found markups as high as 400% to be common. Corkage fees run to $35 and higher.

Barawine (LINK) at 120th Street and Malcom X Blvd (Lenox Ave) is a gem. Beautifully designed, with a small wine bar, common table, and a few smaller tables in front, and a larger dining room in the back. The wine list is more than adequate, the staff knowledgeable and efficient, and the experience there was very positive. We were there for brunch, and the menu is French with a few twists. Food is very good.

Vinateria (LINK) is at 119th and Frederick Douglass Blvd (8th Ave). Again, nice design – exposed brick and dark woods. A Eurocentric wine list of moderate size with some wine specials listed on a blackboard. There is a bar on the side of the front space in the L-shaped dining room. The food was very good, the staff knowledgeable, the wine mark-ups pretty high. We had dinner here with daughter #1 and her husband. It was very enjoyable.

Chez Lucienne (LINK) north of 125th St on Malcom X Blvd., Chez Lucienne pre-dates the more famous Red Rooster next door. The space looks older, with white tile walls and a small bar on the side of the long room; white table cloths. This place has some age and wears it well. The wine list is short, with some decent selections, leaning toward French with a few New World selections. The menu is more toward classic French dishes (coq au vin) which are done well. The staff is friendly and efficient. I inquired about corkage fees here and was told it was $35 per bottle.

Maison Harlem (LINK) at 127th and St. Nicholas is part bar part restaurant. The front of the space is a large fully-stocked bar; the back has about a dozen tables and shares space with the kitchen. Décor is old rustic wood. On one visit, a while ago, there was a jazz trio playing in the restaurant space. This visit, for lunch, was less crowded. Owned by two French expats and linked to BTL across the street, Maison Harlem offers well-prepared food, a moderate wine list, and a great casual atmosphere.

This is just a taste of what is available in Harlem now, as far as the wine scene goes. I am sure, that with continued increases in real estate prices in the area due to demand, that the old Harlem will continue to disappear and something new will emerge. This is a good time to visit, as the transition is still relatively early in its process. Manhattan is one of the world’s great cities, and Harlem is an essential element of what it has been and is becoming.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

THE EPICENTER OF WINE CULTURE IN MÀLAGA, SPAIN

I went to Los Patios de Beatas on Calle Beatas the other evening to check out the wine scene there. It was recommended by Kelly Kannisto of Tannin Trail Tours (LINK) (LINK TO PREVIOUS POST), when I contacted him about recommendations for wine experiences in Màlaga.

Although Màlaga is a wine region, the wines made here are generally sweet. The great dry wines of Spain are made elsewhere.

Los Patios de Beatas is a combination restaurant, tapas bar, wine tasting room, wine retailer, and event location. It is beautifully appointed, has indoor and outdoor seating, and a good selection of wines, almost all from Spain, on sale. Since being in Màlaga, we have had some difficulty finding a good wine shop.

I looked around the space a bit, and asked if I could do a tasting. Àngel, the head waiter told me to sit anywhere in the tasting room/tapas bar area. He and Christina made sure that I was well attended to, even though there were other customers – the exterior seating was full. The main restaurant is staffed separately.

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There is a Enoteca Machine that dispenses wines and keeps them at temperature. The wine list had over 15 tintos (reds) and half a dozen blancos (whites) available by the glass. Eight of the reds were in the Enoteca. I started with a 2005 Tilenos Pagos de Posada, 100% Mencia from D.O. Bierzo (LINK) in northwestern Spain. This wine has a great minerality with hints of dark fruit, chocolate, and leather. Very nice. It retails for 33€ or about $36. Another great value from Spain.

Next, I tried a 2009 Alma de Luzon, Monastrell blend of 70% Monastrell, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah. This wine is from D.O. Jumilla (LINK), in southern Spain not far from Valencia, where the Monastrell Grape is very popular. This wine was rich and chewy, with medium tannins and a smooth finish. It retails for 36€ or about $39.

Next, Àngel brought four bottles to the table – all chilled. Three were Sherry, and one was a local Màlaga sweet wine. There were two sweet Sherries and one dry Sherry from D.O. Jerez (LINK) (LINK TO PREVIOUS POST), where Dorianne and I visited last year. I tasted these side by side while waiting for my tapas to arrive.

The Màlaga sweet wine, a Trajinero (LINK), made from 100% Pedro Ximénez grapes and fortified, was semi-sweet, with a nutty flavor and a nice smooth finish. The stand-out was the Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso Jerez Sherry (LINK), probably the best dry Sherry I have ever tasted. Over 20 years in the barrel (they rotate Sherries through a series of barrels so that each vintage is similar – taking some out, leaving some in, and adding the more recent vintage), this wine was smooth, with traces of coconut, vanilla and pear. Really special. This wine retails for 22€, or about $24 per 500ml bottle.

Then, my two tapa arrived. The first, a cod in a sauce that include coconut milk, was an amazing sensation of flavor. The second, pork belly, slow cooked and then the fat removed and a slice of pork chorizo inserted, accompanied by fennel and an apple puree. Amazing! The kitchen here is wonderfully creative and executes that creativity beautifully.

To accompany those, Àngel suggested a 2008 Mauro “Sin D.O.” from Castilla y Leon, made from 88% Tempranillo and 12% Syrah. The wine was a decent pairing with the cod (the coconut made it tricky), but perfect for the pork belly.

Then, to round of a great experience, Àngel brought out two local digestifs. They retail for about 7€ for a ½ bottle. Both were nice, if not exceptional.

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My tab for the whole thing was 50€. I know that a couple of things were comped. One of the more expensive evenings I’ve had in Màlaga, but a bargain anywhere outside of Spain.

So if you find yourself in Màlaga, find Los Patios de Beatas and have a great wine experience. I was solo on this trip, as Dorianne is out of town – so I will be taking her there when she returns.

As always, your comments on all things Spanish and/or wine are welcome.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

DRINK BETTER WINE – START A REVOLUTION

An interesting post! Link: Drink Better Wine, Start a Revolution

Drink Better Wine, Start a Revolution | Squid Ink | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly // // //

Quote: “I’ve spent most of the last 20 years selling and drinking and writing about wine. And I know so little. I am so far from being truly knowledgable that I’m quite confident I never will be. The idea of being able to smell a glass of wine and identify it out of the hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine that have been produced over the history of wine (which is what sommeliers supposedly are able to do, and which I think many of us imagine when we think of wine experts) is comical to me in its absolute impossibility. I have a hard time remembering names of producers. I’m not very familiar with the geography of France, or Italy, or any wine region, really. I kind of don’t care. I just want a good glass of wine.”
Another: “And so, Millennials of America, as well as anyone else who has found themselves drinking that bottle of Two Buck Chuck and realizing that you are basically only tolerating something that you know little about, not truly enjoying it, I implore you: Drink better wine. Make it imperative that Vons should have decent wine if they want your business. Or, better, hit up the small shops around town that really do all the work for you. Walk into Lou’s, or Domaine L.A., or Silver Lake Wine, or Bar and Garden, and tell them, ‘I’ve got about $45 and I need three bottles of wine and I’m sick of Trader  Joe’s.’ I’m pretty sure they’ll hook you up with something amazing.”

GREAT WINE SHOP AT PIKE PLACE MARKET

We are in Seattle, getting ready to lead a group on an Alaska and British Columbia cruise on the Celebrity Solstice, where I will be blogging about the wine experience aboard ship. Today, we visited Pike Place Market, the legendary Seattle landmark. If you go through the amazing Delaurenti gourmet market, just past the newsstand, you will find a staircase to a wonderful little wine shop. 

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The Reds of the Northwest Section at Delaurenti’s
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Some of the higher-end wines from Europe.

The selection is relatively small, with the exception of wines of the Northwest, as you might expect. But even the selection of European wines is just large enough and well-chosen enough to give you a sense of real choices. There are great wines in most categories and they have been pre-selected by the owners. There really aren’t any wines here that you would not want to drink. There is also a large selection of great wines in half-bottles to use for a picnic with some of the delicacies downstairs in the gourmet market. And lots of bubbly choices, too.

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Large Format Bottles at Delaurenti’s

If you are in Seattle, this is a real gem, along with Pike & Western Wines, at the north end of the market complex, another regional gem.

WESTLAKE VILLAGE/ THOUSAND OAKS WINE WARS?

Rumor has it that the Duke of Bourbon will be moving their considerable retail establishment to the Westlake Village/Thousand Oaks area in the near future. If that is so, they will join Wade’s Wines, the largest independent retailer in the area, along with Bev-Mo and the behemoth Total Wines and Spirits and Costco, which are already here. This is in addition to dozens of smaller retailers, grocery stores with large wine departments, and several new tasting rooms and custom crush operations.

I guess the question is, how much wine can one area consume? While Westlake Village is home to many wealthy wine consumers, bringing another mega-retailer to the area may well mean that some thinning out will result.

Total Wine and Spirits carries about 9,000 wines, and Wade’s recently expanded to carry about that same number, plus they added to their bar/tasting room. Bev-Mo offers several thousand wines and their famous 5 cents sale, which, due to the competition, is happening nearly every month. Costco in Westlake Village has a huge wine inventory for a Costco, but definitely not the selection of the other large shops.

It remains to be seen what kind of operation the Duke will bring to the area, but I assume that they will be in the same ballpark as the bigger retailers noted above. It will be interesting to see how all of this evolves. For a while, anyway, it should be very good for consumers, as the big boys will fight for market share with discounts. Wine lovers will likely be attracted from other areas to shop, taste, and explore what should be an amazing selection of wines and wine-related items.

There is also news on the wine bar and tasting room fronts here. The WineYard recently closed (one of my favorite places), citing package store competition from Total Wines and Spirits and wine bar completion from Bellavino and The Stonehaus as primary factors. The Stonehaus, a recent addition on the Westlake Village Inn property has been packed on two recent visits. The combination of indoor and outdoor seating and the very pleasant surroundings (including a small vineyard), make for a very nice experience.

On the tasting room front, two new tasting rooms have opened in the area – Alma Sol, sharing space with Sunland Wines in Thousand Oaks (see previous post about our visit there), and Altabella Custom Crush in Westlake Village. These join the Cuvee Terrace and J. Hamilton Wines in Westlake Village. There are apparently some others coming soon, adding to the wine-centric focus in this area of late. And all of this within a few miles of the emerging wine AOC’s in Malibu and the many tasting rooms there.

So consider Westlake Village/Thousand Oaks a new wine destination in California. Meanwhile, we will see how all of this shakes out..

HOW TO BUY GOOD WINE OR HOW TO BUY WINE GOOD

After a Recent White Wine Tasting at Chateau Lockard.
A Recent Tasting

For those relatively new to wine enjoyment, you are likely to be confronted with the issue of how to reliably find good wines – that is, wines that you like. Is it a matter of price? Is it about where the wine is from, or the varietal?

I drink wine nearly every day. I drink mostly at home, but have a glass or a bottle in a restaurant one or two times per week. I enjoy wine, but I want to get a good value almost all of the time; the possible exception being a very special occasion, when I may splurge on a more expensive bottle. I don’t want the desire for a good value to keep me from getting wines that I like either, so I try to find a balance.

I like many kinds of wines, and drink reds, whites, rosés, as well as ports and dessert wines (although the last two much less often). I like to pair wines with food, but am not overly strict about it. I pay attention to the heaviness or lightness of the wine – say an Oregon Pinot Noir (light) versus a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (heavier). I would likely have the Pinot with salmon or a lighter chicken dish and the Cab with a steak or pork loin.

So the main wine factors are heaviness and lightness, spiciness or minerality vs. fruit-forward, acidity, and temperature (chilled vs. room temperature). Other factors are season and temperature (colder = heavier and unchilled; warmer = lighter and chilled). These are not hard and fast rules – I have Cabernet Sauvignon in the summer and Sauvignon Blanc in the winter (I live in Southern California, so winter is a relative term for me).

I prefer wines with some unique or distinctive qualities, even at lower price points. This means, that I tend to stay away from cheap, mass-produced wines. These wines are almost always made to be drinkable to a wide variety of people, so they are usually fruity, bland, and forgettable.

Another factor is price. Think everyday wines vs. that special night wines vs. really special occasion wines.

If you averaged out the cost per bottle of the wines I drink in the average week, it would probably land somewhere between $13 and $15. My go-to summer white this year is Portes de Bordeaux, a $6 French white from Trader Joe’s (which they will not likely have again next year). Our favorite rosé is by Chateau Nages, a Provençal wine that sells for $9.99 at Total Wines and Spirits (see earlier posts on Go-To Whites and Rosés for Summer. These and similar wines make up at least two thirds of our consumption. The other third is a mixture of more special wines, a Sancerre for $25 or a California Syrah for $28 that we have purchased either during our travels, at a winery, at local wine shops, or on-line. We purchased a case of Bordeaux wines on a trip last year and some of those are ready to drink, so we have had a couple bottles from that case (which would skew our average price up quite a bit).

To buy good wine (defined as wine that you like) on a budget, you have to know what you like. After that, it is a matter of learning what wines fit into that category. Ask the people who work at a local wine shop or two what wines are similar to what you like. For example, if you like Malbec, you will probably like Barbara; if you like Chenin Blanc, you will probably like Pinot Gris. Get six or eight bottles of wines that are similar and try them out. Then re-purchase the ones you really enjoy.

When you find those everyday wines that you really like, consider stocking up – get a case or two. If you are interested in aging wine or buying as an investment, you have a different set of standards. I will write about those in a future post.