When the fruit for many wines in Eli Zabar’s cellar was harvested, fermented, aged, and bottled, those grapes’ shepherds had little to zero familiarity with the internet. (In some parts of the world in 2015, it’s still tricky to get a winemaker to respond to email.)
Now, with the launching of Eli Zabar’s online wine store Eli’s List Wine & Spirits (as complement to the iconic Upper East Side purveyor’s online premium edibles store), citizens of 33 states can purchase an assortment of back vintages from Zabar’s expansive collection of old-world wines, straight from the NYC brick-and-mortar of same name (1411 Third Avenue) to their door via the internet. This includes delivery to New Yorkers and Brooklynites who just can’t get themselves to the UES.
Of course, sending wine across the country is not as easy as a would-be imbiber putting the virtual bottle in the virtual basket, paying for it with a string of numbers, and then, voilà, the hard proof they spent $250 plus shipping for a ’99 Michel Gaunoux Pommard (highly recommend, by the way) arriving at their doorstep.
Well, actually, it is that easy for the consumer. But for a wine shop, navigating the web of interstate alcohol commerce is a notoriously muddled affair; plus, shipping older wines requires additional measures of care.
Randall Restiano, wine director for Eli’s Table (1413 Third Avenue, 212-717-9798), the UES restaurant that also draws from Zabar’s huge, private wine collection, and Eli’s List (both b&m and online), says the monumental task is worth it. “We wanted to show the world what we have been doing,” he says. “We buy and select wines — Old World, traditional wines — that represent everything we believe in. We wanted to showcase our relationships, views, and passions for wine. We do this in our restaurant…and in our brick-and-mortar store…so the next natural move was online.”
As far as shipping challenges, Restiano points out that they take great care in aging many of the wines in the cellar until they are ready to be drunk. “Aging has a cost associated with it — we try to absorb that as much as possible,” he says. But aged wines require greater protection, so it becomes essential to ship them via temperature-controlled, one-day delivery “so that the wine doesn’t sit on a truck, getting too hot or too cold” — and for that, “there’s additional cost.”
On the flip side, if the team feels a wine is not ready to be drunk, Restiano or another adviser will inform the customer of what they perceive the optimal drink date to be.
Many of the wines on Eli’s List are neither old nor (relatively speaking) expensive, but they do represent the collector’s fondness for classic regions like Burgundy, Piedmont, and Champagne.
For Jura fans, the site has a fantastic selection of the region’s most prominent names: Ganevat, Tissot, and Puffeney. These wine are difficult to find outside of major cities (although, so is interest in them).
Restiano highlighted a few bottles he believes are gems that consumers should not hesitate to take advantage of. Many wines have limited inventory; selections will rotate regularly as labels sell out and new ones are added.
2001 Chinon “Beaumont” Catherine et Pierre Breton, $100
“The key to drinking great Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley…is to drink it aged. This is a rare chance to have an aged Chinon, not to mention from one of the greats in the area, Pierre Breton. Farming here is biodynamic and natural (minimal amounts of sulfur), so to experience this Cabernet Franc fourteen years later is a real treat.”
1999 Pommard 1er Cru “Grands Epenots” Michel Gaunox, $250
“These wines are some of the most traditional and some of the best made in the Pommard appellation, and it comes from one of the Cote-de-Beaune’s best vintages: 1999. Truly a remarkable wine that shows the power, elegance, and beauty of serious Burgundy. All farming is done by hand and is sustainable.”
1999 Savennieres “Roche Aux Moines” Domaine Aux Moines, $50
“The Chenin Blancs from Savennieres are truly some of the greatest. Roche Aux Moines sits close to the famous vineyards of Coulee de Serrant. Young Chenin Blanc is one thing, but aged Chenin Blanc is…outstanding.”