AmWino, Hurricane Irene Edition

So, like most denizens of NYC, we retreated into our apartment and hunkered down on Saturday night to wait out Hurricane Irene.  As I perused our wines to see what might be ready to drink, one bottle leapt out at me – this 1996 Domaine de l’Arlot Clos du Chapeau.  This wine has the appellation Cote de Nuits-Villages, which encompasses a handful of villages and the northern and southern ends of the Cotes de Nuits in Burgundy, which tend to be less heralded than wines from well-known villages like Volnay, Chambolle-Musigny or Gevrey-Chambertin.  Like the red burgundies from those places, this wine is made from 100% pinot noir.  Because they come from less-famous terroirs, Cote de Nuits Villages wines (which I’ll call CDNV) tend to be on the affordable side of red burgundies.  I like to think of them this way: one step up from bourgognes (Burgundy’s entry level wines), but not quite as expensive as wines made entirely of grapes from a single village, which are commonly called village wines.  Prices for CDNV bottlings tend to range from the high $20s to higher $30s range.

This particular wine comes from a producer called Domaine de l’Arlot, whose winery is actually situated in Nuits-St.-Georges (which I’ll call NSG), the closest of the more famous villages to the land where this bottling comes from, Clos du Chapeau.  Clos du Chapeau is in the village Comblanchien, a bit south and east of Nuits-St.-Georges.  From my experience, I consider Arlot to be a good producer, with some very good wines from NSG premier crus as well as some holdings in Vosne-Romanee.  I don’t have a lot of Burgundy from the ’90s, so when I bought this recently, I figured “good producer, has some age, decent price – why not?”

The conventional wisdom on CDNV wines is that they are simple, fruity, meant to be drunk early – say, within 5-6 years from the vintage of the wine.  So, in buying this a few weeks ago, I had been taking a chance that this wine, already 15 years old, would still be good because of the quality of the producer.  I was not disappointed.

As the storm raged on, I was content in the refuge of our apartment with a glass of this in my hand.  In the glass I found aromas of lighter red fruits and a very Burgundian damp earth quality.  On the palate, the wine was very much alive, still in its prime even (though on the back end of it), with solid, bracingly tart red fruit, some exotic spice and a slightly savory overall feel.  The slight tinges of orange-brown in the color of the wine revealed its age, and the body was resolved and somewhat silky – more Volnay than NSG, really.  All in all, textbook red burgundy, and one of many examples of red burgundies that have aged well for much longer than they’re supposed to.  After 8+ hours of aeration, the limits of this wine show – the acidity that kept this juicy for an afternoon and evening starts to turn a bit shrill, and the fruit starts to run short.  But that’s just fine for a CDNV – this minor leaguer fielded every ball cleanly and contributed a base hit or two – everything you could ask of it, and more.

Come noon the next day, the storm had mostly passed, leaving our neighborhood a bit battered (as you can see from the photos) but not too much worse for the wear.  Inclement weather is never a great thing, but I’ll count us lucky this time:  sometimes Mother Nature forcing you to cancel everything, slow things down, and enjoy a quiet, contemplative evening is not a bad thing at all.

(I don’t normally link to a particular store when I review wines but it’s not easy to find older vintage burgundies that are not astronomically priced – so I will tell you that I found this one for $42 (with a discount if you buy 6 or more wines like I did) at Grapes The Wine Company in White Plains, New York.  The store has a well-chosen selection and good storage (even the store is cold like a wine cellar!), and very friendly service.  You can order online and if you join their mailing list, the daily emails from the colorful owner, Dan Posner, are a fun read with some really good deals sometimes as well).

Hope you all made it through the hurricane okay!  Cheers,



A guide to New York City’s best wine shops, Part 1

I’ve long gotten requests for a post like this one, and I’ve finally decided to do a feature about my favorite NYC wine shops.  New Yorkers are lucky to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to wine shops, so I’ve decided to break my review of them into multiple blog posts.  Today, I’m going to focus on bigger shops that aim to offer a wide cross-section of different types of wines from various regions.  I’m going to save specialty shops (like ones that focus on one particular region) and smaller, neighborhoody shops for a future post.  For now, here is the first AmWino list of Favorite All-Purpose Wine Shops in New York city:

Chambers Street Wines – this shop is a mecca to the serious wine geek, and for many New Yorkers, the establishment of this store was a formative event, introducing many to a world beyond California cab, Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy:  underappreciated producers, grapes and regions and importers that have become staples of wine cognoscenti in the city.  Here you will find extensive offerings from the Loire, the Jura, Germany, Austria, Piedmont, Burgundy and Beaujolais; producers ranging from Pinon, Luneau-Papin and Puffeney to Hirtzbirger, Nikolaihof and Pichler, to Giacosa and Roagna, to Tremblay, Fourrier and Dujac; importers represented include Dressner, Jenny/Francois, Savio Soares…. you get the idea. Especially of note:  possibly the best collections of rare bottlings like back vintages and large-format bottles of the wines for those-in-the-know.

Union Square Wines – this store is not one of the ones that’s talked about widely on wine forums and such, but I think it’s been quietly becoming perhaps the best all-around wine shop in the city.   When I first moved to New York in the ’90s, I knew this shop as one with a great location but high prices.  After moving to a new larger location, this store has really hit its stride, introducing Enomatic tasting machines to allow customers to sample both low-cost and highbrow wines, and offering weekly Saturday tastings that usually include 20-30 wines, augmented by lots of special single-region or single-producer-focused tastings or book signings during the weekdays.  The sum total may be the best tasting program in the city; just by regularly attending their tastings, one can gain knowledge of hundreds of wines.  Regular prices are still a bit high, but their NET price sales are very competitive, as are prices for wines included in their weekly Saturday tastings.  The selection here is a terrific balance of the kind of wine geeky offerings you’d find at Chambers or Crush, in-demand producers from California that are usually mailing-list only like Rivers-Marie, Anthill Farms and Bedrock, at the same time that you’ll find the more standard offerings like that bottle of Juan Gil or Rombauer chardonnay that your aunt and uncle must have every time they come over.

Sherry-Lehmann – for me, this Upper East side store feels like old New York, stemming back to the old-wood look of the former Madison Avenue location.  And that’s fitting, because this is a store that oozes tradition.  You won’t find that funky new blend from Radikon here, but for the classics, there’s no place I trust more for excellent provenance and storage at competitive prices.  Order something that’s in stock at the store, and it will arrive in your hands still cool from its place in the storage cellar.  Sherry-Lehmann has another of the city’s really strong tasting programs, with tastings that range from top-flight Bordeaux, Burgundy and Cali cab producers, to less common themes, like amarone, traditional Rioja producers or  New Zealand wines; however, with the departure of former wine education director Robin Kelley O’Connor to Christie’s, it remains to be seen if the tasting program will continue to be as strong.

Crush – an oasis to Midtowners in much the same way that Chambers has been for downtowners, wine geeks will find riches here, especially if they are German riesling, Burgundy or Champagne fans.  The riesling selection is possibly the best in the United States – with rare bottlings, tasting reports from the ground in Germany and Austria, etc.  As a burgundy lover, I find tons to browse and marvel at here; I’ve also been turned on to great sparkling wines here, from $20 cremant de bourgogne to grower champagnes like Benoit Lahaye and Larmandier-Bernier to solid big-house champagnes.  Monthly tastings are excellent but crowded; I wish they would go back to weekly tastings like they had in years past, where I found many a great producer tasted in a non-hectic setting of 4-5 wines at a time.

PJ Wine – this (way) uptown store is kind of a hike for most people, but those who make the trip are rewarded with good prices, a huge supermarket-like selection and one of the city’s best collections of Spanish wines:  I found lots of choices for various bottlings of older vintages of one of my favorite producers, Lopez de Heredia, but all of the heavy-hitters from Spain ranging from traditional to modern-styled are represented here.

Astor Wines & Spirits – this East Village outpost offers a broad selection including specialized sections including a natural/biodynamic wine section and a cool room with back-vintage trophy wines for those flush with cash.  As with USQ Wines, I tend not to buy at regular prices here, but the extensive number of sale-priced selections are generally well priced and well chosen.

If you don’t see your favorite NYC shop here, chances are they will make it into my next post, where I will look at smaller and specialty shops that rock my world.  But feel free to drop a comment on your faves!  Cheers,


Special note:  I do not have any affiliation with any of the stores mentioned in this report other than being a satisfied customer.