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Declaring New York’s top ten wine shops proved even harder than counting the city’s finest bowls of ramen. The number of high-quality wine retailers at our disposal is an embarrassment of vinous riches, and the abundance of stellar shops forced me to draw up separate lists for Manhattan and Brooklyn (coming soon).
I touched on the benchmarks of a noble retailer last week in my interview with Jean-Luc Le Dû of Le Dû’s wines, but let’s recap the criteria. First, to make this list, the store must have a passionate owner and an approachable, educated, and similarly enthusiastic staff. Second, it must deliver a range of regions and price points with unusual selections, especially on the lower end (stocking cheap, predictable wines found on any supermarket shelf in the country is lazy and boring). Third, the wine shop must create opportunities for consumer education, through first-rate tastings, newsletters, or classes.
Although my top ten, below, all hit these marks, I would be remiss not to applaud exemplary specialty shops with singular geographical dedications: California wines at California Wine Merchants, Chilean at Puro, Italian at Enoteca Di Palo and Italian Wine Merchants and Spanish at Despana and Tinto Fino.
Appellation Wine & Spirits Known for his commitment to organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines, Scott Pactor has been filling his shelves with these once-hard-to-find bottles since 2005. A supporter of low-to-no-intervention farming and winemaking, Pactor might’ve been ahead of his time had he opened any earlier. Fortunately for us, his shop served to anchor this now booming neighborhood, and you are guaranteed to walk out with a bottle that in some way reflects a model of sustainability. Appellation staffers are super knowledgeable — but since Pactor is frequently in the shop, feel free to pick his brain on the tenets of natural wine directly. 156 Tenth Ave, 212-741-9474
Astor Wines & Spirits Descending into Astor conjures a Wegmans for wine, rousing childlike glee akin to one’s first time shopping in a stadium-size, reasonably priced grocery after taking years of abuse from D’Ags. It’s not quite Citi Field, but the selection here is almost as broad, hitting every corner of the world at every price point. Looking for Beaumes-de-Venise rouge? Holy hell, they have one; right next to a Rasteau! Need something more familiar? Astor rocks quite the collection of boxed wines. As a bonus, its selection of spirits and sakes also runs deep. With its plethora of sales, weekly tastings and classes at the attached learning center, Astor is a true leader. 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500
Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit This cheery, laid-back Flatiron shop makes wine selection easy for those short on time, knowledge, or both. With ingenious categories like Green, Value, and Take-out, in addition to Meat, Fish, and Poultry, the selections are fun and well-priced, and are backed by a helpful staff. I recently had an unusual need for a German Riesling Sekt under $20, and Bottlerocket not only stocked one, but chilled it in advance of pick-up so I could bring it to the party cold. That’s service! 5 W. 19th Street, 212-929-2323
Chambers Street Wines Big-league wines are served up here in a small Tribeca space. Some may find the shelves daunting — they are filled with classical Europe bottlings that at first glance at price and label may send newbies and those on an austerity plan running to Trader Joe’s. But the key to getting the most from David Lillie and Jamie Wolff’s highly edited collection is to utilize the down-to-earth, zero-attitude staff. On closer inspection, the laser-like focus on artisanal wines from unsung regions (at least in the U.S. market) like the Loire and Germany is worth mining. Gems are here at every price if you just ask for help. 148 Chambers Street, 212-227-1434
Crush Wine & Spirits Crush immediately impresses with its wall of wine, demonstrating the owners’ commitment to proper bottle storage: on its side. Not so easy a feat given Manhattan real estate, and thus often ignored by lesser shops. This level of dedication is evident throughout the store: highly temp-controlled space; a carefully chosen collection of small producers at all price points; a room devoted to high-end bottles and rare vintages; plus one of the best fortified-wine collections in the city for madeira, sherry and port junkies. To top it off, many of the employees are certified sommeliers, or wine- and culinary-school grads. 53 E. 57th Street, 212-980-9463
Flatiron Wine and Spirits A relative newcomer to the retail game, Flatiron quickly distinguished itself for its dedication to exploring the depths and price points of its favorite regions in Europe. These people love Burgundy, but will offer you a handful of ways to skin that cat if your wallet’s feeling thin, starting with a bottle of Bourgogne Rouge for $8.99. They also court the less obvious regions of Europe — consider the 24 offerings from Jura/Savoie or extensive natural wines from Sicily. The Southern Hemi’s not even Flatiron’s focus, yet their selection of Aussie, New Zealand and South American wines are better than most — five wines from Uruguay? For those in a hurry with a budget, take advantage of the rotating 120 options of “grab & go” wines at the $15 price point. 929 Broadway, 212-477-1315
Le Dû’s Wines Former Daniel sommelier Jean-Luc Le Dû opened his eponymous store in 2005 to grateful locals in a neighborhood in sore need of wine retail: the far West Village. I could wax on about Le Dû’s all day. The place has Jean-Luc himself, an awesome staff, cool wines from $10 to $200 (and way up if you want it), plus epic in-store tastings. Forget the kind where the company rep shows up with a stack of Dixie cups, a couple of bottles, and the inability to tell if his wine is corked. Jean-Luc knows how to—pardon my Midwestern expression—put on a feedbag (of wine), and he’s not afraid to open top-shelf bottles. Put yourself on his mailing list and catch the yearly anniversary party. 600 Washington Street, 212-924-6999
Pasanella and Son Vintners You know these guys give a damn when a wine-filled ’64 Fiat Giardiniera station wagon functions as both storage and design element. Run by Marco Pasanella, a former designer turned wine retailer, the shop’s South Street neighborhood was recently flood-ravaged by you-know-who. Despite this, Pasanella kept his doors open to appreciative locals, and also protected the enoteca in the back of the store from demise. The charming space features french doors opening up to a small garden where tastings, classes, and private functions are held. As for the wines, the 400-plus bottles are procured from smallish under-the-radar producers. When asked his sourcing philosophy, Pasanella says simply, “We like to think we discover wines before they’re discovered.” 115 South Street, 212-233-8383
Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits Leaders in the art of fine boozing since 1934, Sherry-Lehman has a mindblowing wine selection. The midtown brick and mortar location offers a mere — but admirable — sliver of the 7,000 bottles stored in the Brooklyn warehouse. Can’t find what you need? Check the website, the quarterly catalog, or just ring them on the telephone (they still use one). If you want it that afternoon, their three-times-daily shuttle between the shop and the warehouse will have it in the store before your laptop clicks shut for the day. If you’re shopping online, look out for their frequent wines sales at seriously good tariffs. They deliver anywhere in New York State for orders over $100 — not hard to do once you spend 20 minutes on the site. And don’t forget to ogle the in-store selection of magnums that will tempt your inner party spirit, just so long as someone else’s credit card is buying. 505 Park Ave, 212-838-7500
Union Square Wines Boasting 2,500 labels, a convenient Union Square location (you can buy wine to sneak into the nearby movie theater), 48 vinos rotating regularly in the enomatic system (which keeps them fresh for by-the-glass pouring), and expert wine director Jesse Salazar, this shop is last on the list only by alphabet. For budding wine nerds, students on a budget, and anyone eager for a free wine education, USQ has your coursework covered with weekly tastings spanning the globe. Recent events included Cru Beaujolais, Piedmont, and an Easter wine and food pairing based on lamb and ham (dinner not included). 140 Fourth Ave, 212-675-8100