Top Wine & Spirits Books of 2017

Top Wine & Spirits Books of 2017

Today’s Internet-driven world is not making it easy for books. And yet, these paper-based content providers persist— and some might argue are sharper than ever thanks to their cyber-based competition. Here are highlights from among 2017 releases— each with a compelling raison d’etre.


In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire, Peter Hellman Workman Books, July 2017, $25.95 This detailed, gripping account unravels the biggest wine caper in decades, documenting how a clever criminal, Rudy Kurniawan—presently serving 10 years in prison, beginning in 2002—bamboozled wine experts and collectors in a dazzling series of counterfeit concoctions of wine bottles bearing the labels of the most exalted names from Burgundy and beyond. This is a true cautionary tale that underlines the importance of “provenance”—where and from whom a wine comes from—as well as they surprisingly malleable psyche of collectors.

A Spot at the Bar: Welcome to the Everleigh/The Act of Good Drinking in 300 Recipes, Michael Madrusan & Zara Young Hardie Grant/Chronicle Books, March 2017, $18.00 Michael Madrusan, owner of The Everleigh, in Melbourne, Australia, and co-founder of Milk & Honey of New York City, along with his writing partner Zara Young, have blended a stunning array of 300 cocktails and graceful storytelling covering all manner of drink from seductive aperitifs to post-prandial elixirs. Recipes lean toward classic and transport the reader back to the golden era of elegant drinking.

Bloody MaryThe Bloody Mary, Brian Bartels Ten Speed Press, March 2017, $18.99 With due credit to cocktail historian Jeffrey Pogash’s elegantly written Bloody Mary, privately printed in 2012, Brian Bartles carries the story forward in entertaining detail, with scores of anecdotes and recipes for this iconic drink—one which is the author states is “universally loved.”

Mezcal: The History, Craft & Cocktails of the World’s Ultimate Artisanal Spirit, Emma Janzen Voyageur Press, July 2017, $25.00 Mezcal is a booming category these days, emerging from the shadow of Mexico’s signature spirit, tequila. Drinks journalist Emma Janzen prefers her mezcal neat and her prose is too. Janzen dishes out an authoritative primer on the mezcal’s history and production (distinct from tequila). She also interviews producers and shares some tempting cocktail recipes, adding in a convenient index of leading mezcal bars.

Dirty Guide to Wine

The Dirty Guide to Wine: Following Flavor from Ground to Glass, Alice Feiring, with Pascaline Lepeltier MS Countryman Press, June 2017, $24.95 Who knew that the story of dirt could be so fascinating? While a primer on wine and winemaking, Feiring literally gets her hands dirty as she digs into the critical importance of soil, alongside celebrated sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier. For wine geeks and amateurs alike, the Dirty Guide will also bring the reader up to speed on natural wines as a category and movement.

Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World’s Spirit By Fred Minnick Voyageur Press, June 2017, $25.00 Fred Minnick, who wrote the award-winning Whiskey Women, has authoritatively addressed the complex history of rum, from artisanal roots to today’s globe-spanning popularity. Besides classic and new recipes, Minnick offers a detailed listing of producers and production techniques useful to any rum enthusiast. Chances are most readers had no idea rum could be so varied—in style, aging, and usage.

Globe BookThe Drinkable Globe: The Indispensable Guide to the Wide World of Booze By Jeff Cioletti Turner Publishing, November 2017, $19.95 Proposing that the best way to experience the world is through a glass filled with something good, veteran drinks journalist Jeff Cioletti goes on a liquid journey, examining the tradition, consumption, and production of alcohol on every continent. The reader is encouraged to come along vicariously



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Next Gen Shall Be Served

Next Gen Shall Be Served

Teenagers taking selfie with camera phone

Next Gen Z’ers, millennials transform merchant realities & practices

Raised with cellphones and video games, too busy to visit the mall, and averse to buying the same brands their parents drink, Gen Z’ers and Millennials are challenging merchants to up their game and rethink how best to profit from these digital-savvy customers.

“Younger customers come into our stores and check this or that brand on their smart phone,” says Vince Trunzo, co-owner of Affiliated Consulting, which oversees marketing for a co-op of 350 Armanetti, Cardinal and Miska wine and liquor stores in Illinois. He adds, “They want a discovery wine or spirit they can tell their friends about—and post, too.”


Gen Z and Millennial wine and spirits consumers have different tastes than Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Simply put, we are entering a new demographic reality. Millennials—those born in the early 1980s—and Gen Z’ers— still younger consumers born in the mid-1990s—today comprise the biggest group of consumers in the U.S., having overtaken aging Baby Boomers in sheer numbers: Gen Z’ers and Millennials total more than 75-to-100 million consumers, according to research reported by the Wine Market Council.

These legal-drinking-age (LDA) consumers pose a host of challenges and opportunities to independent on- and off-premise operators. Do you need to be a social media expert? What do they really like to drink? Which brands appeal to them? And where can an operator turn to for help?

See-Saw Signs

David Jabour, President of Twin Liquors, an 80+-store group in Texas, observes, “Gen Z’ers and Millennials are not brand loyal compared to Baby Boomers and older customers. It’s difficult if you are a brand owner, because Gen Z and Millennials want to experiment.” On the other hand, while not necessarily loyal, these consumers are still attracted to brands. “We focus on national brands, not private labels, in all our stores,” adds Jabour. “A brand with a story is critical. Younger consumers like authenticity.”

“Younger consumers coming out of college are experimenting with all sorts of spirits and wines,” says David Churchill, owner of Churchill’s Wine & Spirits in Bridgehampton, NY. But he, too, sees some brands being warmly embraced: “Vodka is a blank canvas, and Tito’s is on fire, as it’s so easy to mix. Reds like Josh or Joel Gott, priced between $15-$20 are also popular with younger customers, as are the 3-liter Bota Box varietals like Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.”


Uva, a wine and spirits store in Brooklyn, attracts many Gen Z and millennial customers interested in trying natural, bio- and organic wines and spirits, the latter many from local distilleries.

Some retailers report success going the opposite direction from recognizable brands. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for Chris Bordeaux, Manager of Uva Wines & Spirits, it’s all about small producers, whether it is natural wines or local spirits. Echoing the famous quote from Field of Dreams, Bordeaux asserts: “If you carry natural wines, they will come.” Bordeaux says his younger customers are especially enthusiastic about so-called “orange” wines—made when white grapes are given extended maceration and skin contact, ranging in price from $14-$90, including Cantina Giardino for $30 a bottle. Bordeaux also sells a great deal of natural wine, with such wines’ minimal intervention providing extra appeal. It’s predominantly local in terms of spirits brands at Uva. Says Truzo of the Armanetti, Cardinal and Miska store group, “We see Millennials drinking more and more premium spirits and wines, so in all our social media communications we make sure that we call attention to premium discovery wines and spirits.”

Value in the Well

As if Millennials and Gen Z’ers were not chameleonic enough in terms of brand-buying attitudes, it seems that on-premise these consumers are even apt to adjust their stripes over the course of an evening. Raymond C. “RC” Faigle, owner of the Orange Crate bar in Syracuse, NY, whose clientele is anchored by nearby Syracuse University, says, “Our customers, 50/50 men and women, may start off ordering Tito’s, Grey Goose, Bacardi or Patron at about $7-$9.50, but move later in the evening to our well brands, which are priced lower at $4.50 or $5.”

George Seibel, owner of the Dark Horse Tavern in Cortland, NY, home to the Cortland State University of New York (SUNY Cortland), says he works closely with his son, Vincent, who is the establishment’s manager, to make sure selection and pricing are correct and appealing to his collegiate customers. Says Vincent Seibel, “From 21-22, it’s all about beer from Bud Light at $4-$10 a pitcher; in spirits, it’s flavored vodka, a well brand with cranberry, popular with both men and women, sells for $4.50 and Tito’s for $5.50 or $6, or Jim Beam Red Stag Black Cherry for $4.50 or $5, which is popular with both women and men.”

Summing up, “It’s all about pricing, it’s all about well brands,” says Amber Hubbard, Bacardi On-Premise Sales Manager, Western New York, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. At the same time, Hubbard adds, “Gen Z’ers and Millennials are increasingly gravitating to classic, premium pours like Bacardi, Patrón and Heaven Hill, so the opportunity for operators to upsell is always there.”


  • Leave Your Comfort Zone – Bring In New Spirits/Wines
  • Feature Brands With An Authentic Story and Heritage
  • Go Local: Search Out Home-grown Wines and Spirits
  • Add New Categories – Natural Wines, Obscure Varietals
  • Be Sensitive to Pricing – Be Fair, Affordable & Offer Value
  • Host Tastings of Your Newest Discovery Wines & Spirits
  • Reach Out and Tie In with Slow Food & Culinary Groups
  • Feature The Classics – What Goes Around, Comes Around!
  • Ask Your Youngest Employees For Ideas – In-Store to Online
  • Go Beyond Facebook/Twitter: Try Instagram, Pintrest

Note: The author would like to thank the Editors of Beverage Media Magazine for permission to post this story. David Lincoln Ross

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Coffee Infuses New Products to Creative Cocktails

JAVA JOINS THE PARTY, so move over Tia Maria, make way Kahlua. In the last few years, a new generation of coffee-infused spirits, liqueurs, beers, and, yes, even caffeinated wines, are waking up mixologists and merchants to new flavor possibilities.

While classic coffee-infused liqueurs noted above and relative newcomers like Patrón XO Café (introduced in 2012) merit prime shelf space and prominent back-bar placements, a crop of audaciously named upstarts include: Death Wish Coffee Vodka, Albany Distillingdeath-wish_03 prairie-bombCo., NY; BOMB, a coffee-infused ale from Prairie Artisan Ales, Tulsa, OK; Café Agave Mocha, a 13.8% abv coffee-flavored creamer by Café Agave, San Diego, CA; Firelit Coffee Spirits Liqueur, Firelit Spirits, San Francisco, CA; Dark-Natural Coffee Liqueur, Prairie Wolf Spirits, Guthrie OK; Cabernet Coffee Espresso and Chardonnay Coffee Cappuccino from Friends Fun Wine, Aventura, FL; and Molinari Café’s new wine-infused coffee roast, whose beans (before roasting) are immersed in a red wine blend sourced from Napa, CA, among others.


Giorgio Milos is illy caffe’s Master Barista, who has created countless original espresso-infused cocktails.

Assessing coffee-driven innovation percolating through spirits, beer and wine, Giorgio Milos, Master Barista, illy caffe North America, a leading Italian premium coffee purveyor, says, “Mixologists, distillers and brewers are always looking for new ingredients and finally they realized that coffee is very versatile.”

Zach Prichard, Owner, Prairie Artisan Ales, agrees, adding: “Coffee-beers have been around for at least a generation, but brewers have been using coffee in more ways recently, especially with lighter styles like IPA, sours and seasonals.”


Inspired by the Crescent City, St. George’s NOLA coffee liqueur.

Following a trip to New Orleans where he enjoyed chicory-flavored coffee, Dave Smith, Head Distiller, St. George Artisan Spirits, Alameda, CA, created NOLA Coffee Liqueur, a blend of French-roasted chicory, non-GMO corn-based spirits, organic cane sugar, Madagascar vanilla bean, and coffee from Jewel Box Coffee Roasters in Oakland. While St. George was established in 1982, NOLA is relatively new to its portfolio, says Smith; launched in 2014, it has a SRP of $35.


Grounds “Know No Bounds”

Zach Brinley, Chief Bootlegger, Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, which markets its Shipwreck Coffee-flavored Rum from St. Kitts, says, “The craft revolution in spirits, wine and beer knows no bounds, and coffee is now entering this transformation.”


Coffee Mixology at Kobrick’s in NYC’s Meatpacking District. Photo: Courtesy of The New York Times, all rights reserved.

In 2016, Kobrick Coffee Co., a Jersey City, NJ-based roaster founded in 1920, opened a café Manhattan’s Meatpacking District that serves a variety coffee-infused cocktails. It’s been thronged since day one, according to Samuel Ta, Head Barista, who says one of bar’s best-sellers is the “Loca Mocha”, a cocktail comprised of Ancho Chile liqueur, Jameson Irish whiskey, chocolate milk, cold-brewed Kobrick coffee, and Hella aromatic bitters. Another top pick is the “Marin Boulevardier”, made of Four Roses Bourbon, Campari, Contratto Rosso, Kyoto-dripped, single-origin Burundi Rugoza coffee.

Adds Scott Kobrick, Vice President and a fourth-generation member of the Kobrick family: “In opening in Manhattan, we encouraged our baristas to be innovative in creating signature cocktails. We are extremely happy with our growing following.”

Obtaining Ideal Shelf Positioning

 What is the best way to merchandise these assorted coffee-inspired brands? Brinley suggests one key advantage: “We would do better if our Shipwreck Coffee Rum were positioned next to Kahlua and Tia Maria, instead of in the rum section.” In other words, merchants might consider re-shelving these diverse coffee-related brands into a dedicated “coffee corner” of a store.


It’s all about location, says Gary Fisch, of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, when it comes to placing all the coffee-related products together in order to build consumer awareness.

Gary Fisch, Owner and CEO, Gary’s Wine and Marketplace, with four locations in New Jersey, says: “Zach Brinley’s suggestion makes sense. In fact, I’m going to start grouping all my coffee-infused spirits from Van Gogh Espresso Vodka to Patrón XO Café to Shipwreck Coffee Rum in my stores; it’s a great idea.”

Editor’s Note: The author would like to thank Beverage Media for permission to run this article, which appears in the May 2017 issue of Beverage Media Magazine.

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Gaining Grounds: Midscale Hotels Promote Premium Coffee in Hotel Mgt Magazine


Premium coffee service is entering the mid-scale hotel segment in ways unimaginable even five years ago.

Premium coffees perk up midscale segment

Driven by ever-more-discerning American coffee drinkers demanding a better cup of joe, midscale lodging groups are upgrading to premium brews as never before, as reported in Hotel Management Magazine, which was posted February 28, 2017.

Senior hotel, food-and-beverage and coffee company executives say they are focused on everything from improving lobby coffee service to unlocking new revenue streams to enhancing the guest experience via a flavorful brew served as a complimentary amenity. Such innovation and change are clear signals that premium coffee has gained ground and penetrated the midscale lodging tier in ways unimaginable even five years ago. And, fortuitously for midscale hotel owners, the costs in climbing the ladder of coffee quality are surprisingly slight, as little as a penny or pennies on the dollar.

“Within the midscale tier, up until the last three or four years, coffee was just coffee and any coffee would do, but now, thanks to Starbucks and other premium coffee roasters, our guests are more interested than ever in a flavor, a special roast and a better cup of coffee,” said David Neves, corporate director of F&B for IHG.

To implement an upgraded coffee service, Neves led an intensive two-year study researching coffee. He polled guests, conducted blind taste tests and solicited input from coffee purveyors. Ultimately, IHG’s Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands selected Keurig Green Mountain and Royal Cup Coffee and Tea as their two partners at more than 3,000 locations in North America.

“We were the first in our category to mandate Keurig K-Cup equipment in all our Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express locations across the United States and Canada,” Neves said, noting that the upgraded coffee is a free amenity at every property.


Coffee bar in Red Lion Hotel Lobby. Photo courtesy of RL.

“The increase in quality of a core beverage like coffee has become a differentiator to both catering sales managers and our clients that frequent our properties,” said Caroline Czirr, VP of brand management for Red Lion Hotels Corporation. “Coffee has become a brand differentiator and a profit center in our Hotel RL properties that have a full-service coffee bar. We offer a complimentary cup of coffee at our Red Lion Hotels, Red Lion Inns and Suites and GuestHouse every day to our hotel guests.”

While premium coffees, espressos, lattes and cold brews—often accompanied by individualized coffee service from in-house baristas—have been present, featured and served within the luxury, upper-upscale, upscale and upper-midscale hotel segments for some time, demand for specialty coffee is fast percolating through the midscale lodging tier. From lobby to room, the “premiumization of coffee” trend is on full display at Wyndham Hotel Group’s Baymont Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Super 8 and Travelodge brands, among others, said Lisa Checchio, Wyndham Hotel Group’s VP of brand marketing.


An Aloft guest fills up before heading out.

Going Mainstream

According to Mark Southern, director of product innovation, F&B for Hilton, specialty and premium coffees are going to tip over to the mainstream sooner than later in terms of midscale brands. At Hilton’s new Tru midscale brand, Italian coffee purveyor Lavazza will be served exclusively. Southern said that Hilton likewise offers premium coffee service at its Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites, among other company brands.

Viewing U.S. coffee trends over the past 20 years, Michelle Burns, SVP of channel development, branded solutions for Starbucks Coffee Company, said there is a growing sophistication among U.S. coffee drinkers.

“In viewing the journey of coffee, what is fantastic is the breadth of what the lodging industry has achieved,” she said. According to Burns, Starbucks is now rolling out on a national basis its Seattle’s Best Coffee liquid concentrate in half-gallon containers. Designed to target the company’s lodging, convention and hospitality customers, the concentrate can serve up to 790 five-ounce servings.

“We are seeing the same passion for morning beverages as we’ve seen for evening beverages,” said Toni Stoeckl, VP of select brands for Marriott International, which includes Aloft, Element, AC and Moxy. “You are seeing the globalization of a European passion for coffee. Ten or 15 years ago you would not have seen this level of interest in the U.S. in provenance, in its quality and the story behind a particular coffee.”

At Moxy, Nespresso is featured in the lobby as a free “grab and go,” while at Elements, Starbucks is featured along with breakfast in the lobby.
Millennial Power

Coffee appreciation among Americans is very much in evidence among one of the country’s most influential, and now largest, demographic groups: millennials. Prompted by growing numbers of coffee-savvy millennials staying at midscale properties, coffee premiumization at midscale brands is very much the order of the day.

“Coffee is being driven by millennials; they’re a most powerful cohort,” said Shelly Tallabas, director of customer and market insights with Farmer Brothers Coffee. Farmer Brothers works with scores of chain and independent hoteliers across all lodging segments, according to Tallabas, and offers a range of coffee and teas from branded coffees to specialty brews.

And, as with many other roasters large and small, Tallabas said the company goes to much effort to call attention to and broadcast its ethical sourcing and list of sustainable practices, up and down its supply chain. Noting a growing appreciation in this demographic for varietal wines, craft beers and authentic, artisanal spirits, Tallabas added, “Millennials are much more knowledgeable about premium and specialty coffees than previous generations.”

Bean Counting

For all the focus on elevating the guest experience and, for some operators, offering better coffee grades as a free amenity as part of that strategy, the cost of implementing a coffee upgrade to midscale lodging owners and franchisees is minimal. As a general rule, the cost to a typical midscale hotel for free breakfast and coffee service in the morning comes to about 4 percent a year in a property’s overall operational expenses, with coffee’s share much less than 1 percent, IHG’s Neves said.

In a hypothetical case, if the property is paying $3 a pound for coffee, this comes out to a penny or less when calculating a hotel’s overall annual operating costs. However, if a hotel brand is paying $10 a pound for an ultra-premium coffee, then it’s a different story for the operator, Neves said, which would likely be for a luxury or upper-upscale hotel.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author wishes to thank the Editors of Hotel Management Magazine for permission to reprint this article.

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CRUS CONTROL: Deep in the Beaujolais region of France is the Fleurie appellation, above, known for its fresh, fruity and age-worthy crus, one of ten.

Crus’ing to New Prominence


 By David Lincoln Ross

A perfect storm of positive marketplace trends is boosting the 10 crus of Beaujolais to new prominence and popularity. Merchants, restaurateurs and somms, together with customers, are definitely taking notice of the wines’ intrinsic quality/value appeal.

Long in the shadow of Beaujolais Nouveau, the 10 crus of Beaujolais—Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, Chénas, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour—posted a robust 63% sales gain in the U.S. during the first six months of 2016 versus the same period in 2015, according to French Agriculture ministry data.beaujolais-cru-map

Raj Vaidya, Wine Director, Restaurant Daniel, New York, says, “Beaujolais crus offer incredible bang for buck.” Daniel’s wine list features a baker’s dozen of crus, including a 2001 Domaine de Vissoux, “Garants”, Fleurie, for $95 and a 2009, Domaine Barbet, Saint-Amour, for $75. He adds, “Beaujolais crus also age better than many realize, which is why I love to list some older vintages.”

Veronica Litton, Wine Director, Crown Wine & Liquors, a 12-store group based in Miami, identifies another key reason behind the growing interest in crus Beaujolais: “We’ve all seen what Burgundy pricing has been in the last three vintages, with shortages, so we’ve enhanced our cru Beaujolais selections; I am proud to say Crown features all 10 crus.”


Georges Duboeuf is credited with raising the image and sales of all levels of Beaujolais, from nouveau to cru, into worldwide renown and respect.

Georges Dubœuf, founder of Les Vins de Georges Dubœuf, Romananche-Thorins, France, and renowned for promoting Beaujolais since the early 1960s, observed he sees better opportunities than ever for his crus in the U.S. “Our exports of crus Beaujolais are up this year, and our importer, distributors and merchants and sommeliers are passing on the message to consumers of their incredible value in the world of wine.”

“Terroir-Driven” Distinctions

Dennis Kreps, co-owner of Quintessential Wines, Napa, California, and importer of Dubœuf’s portfolio, says, “One of the key points to effectively selling Georges Dubœuf’s Cru Domaine and Château wines is location. The wines represent the nuances of “place” just as much as Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, at very approachable prices.”chateau-des-labourons-fleurie-beaujolais-france-10336829

Jason Jacobeit, Wine Director, Bâtard, New York, concurs. “A guest recently asked without opening the list, ‘Do you have any Côte de Py?’ I had several vintages of Foillard (Morgon) for him, luckily. But that sort of morcellated plot-by-plot conceptualization has been a mindset previously reserved solely for the Côte d’Or.”

J.R. Thomason of Flatiron Wine & Spirits, New York, says, “A Beaujolais Cru is cheaper than Burgundy, and at $20 you can have a terroir-driven Chenas or Saint-Amour, and tell the difference.”

Trey Beffa, co-owner of K&L Wine Merchants, with three stores in San Francisco, which stocks a sizeable number of cru Beaujolais from smaller producers, adds, “Younger winemakers in Beaujolais are pursuing sustainable farming and introducing natural or organic, and/or bio-dynamic wines; this is stimulating our customers to try these new cru wines.”

And, as attention around Beaujolais nouveau dispels after the holidays, this has opened the door to permit greater focus in the trade on cru Beaujolais offerings, says Pascal F. Salvadori, Vice President, Senior Portfolio Manager & Director of Education, Esprit du Vin (Palm Bay), which represents Château de La Chaize from Brouilly.

Culinary Dividends

The Gamay grape’s intrinsic food friendliness also signals a new, more sustained year-round opportunity to encourage trial and upselling to Beaujolais crus.


In Lyon, ‘bouchons’, small, intimate restaurants such as this above, Bouchon des Filles,  serve up heaping portions of roasted chicken, crisp frites and chilled carafes of crus Beaujolais.

Anthony Cohen, Brand Manager, French & European Estates, Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York, importer of three producers of Beaujolais, including crus from Château Fuissé, Domaine Labruyère and Stéphane Aviron, says “Beaujolais is Lyon,” referring to the food capital of France, where a roast chicken, pommes frites and a Beaujolais are revered as a gastronomic holy trinity. Cohen adds, “Crus are food friendly, fruity, not overpowering, yet complex.”

Jules Dressner, co-owner of Louis/Dressner, a New York importer of seven cru Beaujolais producers, says: “Beaujolais is fun and affordable, and people finally figured this out. But they can also be complex and terroir-centric (ie. the Cru bottlings), so you can geek out to them. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Noting the versatility of Beaujolais crus, Belinda Chang, Partner, Maple & Ash, a top Chicago restaurant, says, “We are steering our customers away from the traditional steakhouse wines that they might typically order (Napa Cabernet) and encouraging them to enjoy more universally food friendly wine, which accommodate the seafood eaters at the table as well.” 

All in all, thanks to a confluence of market trends, there’s no better time than now to introduce customers to the 10 distinctive, terroir-driven crus of Beaujolais.


The author wishes to thank Beverage Media for permission to adapt this article from its January 2017 issue on pp. 22-23.

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3 St. Paul de Vence Restaurants To Visit After Maeght

Three St. Paul de Vence Restaurants–

When Fine Art Meets Les Arts de la Table à la Provençale

St Paul de Vence

 by David Lincoln Ross

Fine Art Meets Les Arts de la Table à la Provençale at three St. Paul de Vence restaurants.  A mere half-mile from the chic hill town of St. Paul de Vence, and only 12 miles from Nice, the Foundation Maeght is a world-renowned museum of 20th and 21st century art and sculpture.  Nearby you will find three St. Paul de Vence restaurants.

The Maeght is set amid towering umbrella pines, well-manicured lawns and outdoor plazas all studded with abstract sculpture, the museum’s permanent collection features artworks and paintings by Jean Arp, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Ellsworth Kelly, Juan Miro, Henry Moore, and Pablo Picasso, among others. The tranquil setting and stellar museum were established and endowed by famed Niçoise art dealers Marguerite and Aimé Maeght in 1964 and annually attracts more than 200,000 visitors.


Michelin’s Red Guide invokes a famous expression, “vaut le voyage” or ‘worth the trip’, when its anonymous reviewers wish to call a traveler’s attention to three-star gastronomic temples of French haute cuisine. One could truthfully apply this three-word commendation to St. Paul de Vence itself, not only in terms of all the seductive art on display, but also owing to the presence of three restaurants in town where one can eat reasonably well, if not quite at the level of Michelin’s highest star-studded accolade.

Here are three St. Paul de Vence restaurants are recommended, addresses where each chef ably draws upon the sheer variety fresh seafood and crustaceans from the Mediterranean; locally raised pork, beef and lamb; fowl from guinea hens to rare breeds of chickens; wild game, notably boar; a variety of olive- and garlic-based tapenades; local vegetables and herbs; and fruit from ripe white peaches to succulent black cherries. And with any meal, don’t miss sampling a chilled rosé wine from one of the dozens of nearby estates—especially those labels from the surrounding Côtes de Provence appellation, think quenchable pinks from Château de Pourcieux to Domaine Ott to Rock Angel from Château d’Esclans. Over two days—one lunch and dinner the first day, and lunch the next afternoon—your correspondent and wife, who is my official food photographer, enjoyed dining at these three spots.

Le Vieux Moulin


Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

Perched above a strategic turn on the road uphill to Vence, and just outside St. Paul de Vence’s 17th century fortified gate, Le Vieux Moulin was in its day a dual-purpose wheat-and-olive oil mill, all powered by an ancient aqueduct.  Proof? A massive gristmill is right inside the restaurant’s entrance next to the bar, and at the back of the room, a huge olive oil press resides, whose wooden pressoir is raised and seemingly poised to receive and crush the next harvest. Whether you sit on the terrace, or at a table inside, Chef de cuisine Olivier Depardieu – no relation to the French actor – serves up a classic Provençale dishes.


Crevettes with artichoke at Le Vieux Moulin. Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

At lunch, after an amuse bouche of rich, black olive tapenade accompanied by gressins, or thin breadsticks, your correspondent, accompanied by his wife, shared pan-sautéed squids, artichokes seasoned with parsley and garlic sauce, resting on a rocket (arugula) salad to begin, followed by two different risotto dishes, one starring five sweet scallops (coquilles St. Jacques), matched with a quintet of perfectly fried, crispy-thin slices of spicy chorizo sausage; the other main featured three large prawns (crevettes), graced with lightly fried artichoke wedges. Each delicious risotto dish was perfectly creamy and just slighty al dente or crunchy in texture.


A delicious clafoutis. Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

Desserts looked too good to resist, so we plumped for an apricot clafoutis, an egg custard/fruit concoction, as well as a trio of peach, strawberry and chocolate sorbets, the latter served at their ideal temperature, soft and effortlessly ‘spoonable’.  Le Vieux Moulin’s wine list is strong on local rosés and robust southern Rhône reds and fragrant whites; service was correct and friendly, but not overly so. Reservations are recommended.

Le Vieux Moulin, Tel: 04 93 58 36 76, St. Paul de Vence, France

Le Tilleul


Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

This charming indoor/outdoor restaurant is named after a magnificent, centuries-old linden tree that stands proudly like a silent sentry guarding the restaurant’s wide terrace situated on the town’s ramparts. (See photo.) Indeed only steps from the town’s walled fortress designed by Sébastien Vauban (1633-1707), the tree’s expanse effortlessly covers most of the tables. Looking south from a terrace table, one can see all the way to the coast on a clear day.

Under Chef de cuisine Bastien Hodé, Le Tilleul features arguably the best cooking in town, exceeding in creativity, presentation and skill even the far more celebrated La Colombe d’Or, which is located almost directly below the ramparts and terrace dominated by the linden tree.


A summery, chilled tomato and watermelon cocktail. Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

At dinner, we quickly downed a summery ‘shot’ of chilled, blended watermelon and heirloom tomato juice; this refreshing potion offered a mouth-watering mix of sweetness and zingy acidity as our amuse-bouche. (See photo.) Then we shared a summer salad of aged Serrano ham on a bed arugula, punctuated by tiny red and yellow cherry tomatoes, and topped with fresh sliced Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. (See photo.) Having lunched on scallops at lunch, for my main course, I ordered a gambas risotto dish that surpassed in creaminess my midday risotto, with the giant shrimp teaming with mild sea-salty tenderness. (See photo.) Graced with paper-thin, shavings of peppery red radish and generous dollops of Parmigiano-Reggiano flakes, the dish offered forkfuls of genuine pleasure when complemented by a bone-dry rosé. My wife ordered a tender, perfectly cooked supreme de volaille (chicken) accompanied by Robuchon-worthy mashed potatoes—read virtually equal rations of butter to tuber!


A refreshing lemon-infused ice, with a gaufrette/waffle biscuit. Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

We ended our evening with a citron sorbet, bracing, almost tart as fresh lemon juice but not quite owing to the addition of not too much sugar sweetness, complemented by a thin sugar-butter gaufrette or waffle-like biscuit that served as a cooling end to a hot, but wonderfully art-filled day. Reservations are a must for both lunch and dinner, as we saw many couples, families and groups sadly turned away.

‪Le Tilleul, Tel: 04 93 32 80 36, St. Paul de Vence, France

La Colombe d’Or


Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

Long esteemed by film icons (Francois Truffaut), legendary artists (Pablo Picasso) and literary lions (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Le Colombe d’Or hotel boasts the privacy these celebrities crave and a singularly amazing, private art collection dating back to the 1920s. (See photos of rebus sign and garden dining area.) It was an era when the hotel’s founder, Paul Roux—a Provençal native with a fondness for art who owned the quirky bar-cum-auberge—befriended, boarded for free and spotted money to an assortment of poor, but talent rich artists at the bar and restaurant in exchange for their paintings. So came to be a remarkable, museum-quality collection of paintings that may be freely viewed in the dining rooms, bedrooms, pool area and its outdoor garden restaurant, where you are as likely to see a brilliant canvas by Miro, Picasso, Braque as a drawing or sculpture by Chagall, Calder or Matisse. Today Paul’s grandson, François, and his wife, Danièle, run La Colombe d’Or.

Given this introduction, one would hope, even expect, a gifted cuisine nearly as elevated as the art on display. After all artists—and hoteliers—have been known to worship Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, as much as Aphrodite, the goddess of love and pleasure. Alas, Demeter, the goddess of nourishment, seems to have neglected La Colombe d’Or’s kitchen. In a word, some dishes deliver, and do so heartily and generously, but others miss the mark by a wide margin.


A garden harvest of fresh crudités. Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

Our experience there confirms the hotel-restaurant’s reputational cliché: Comfortable, private, high-priced and afforded with an art collection vastly superior to its cuisine. We lunched on a hot day in early July, after some delicious olives to enjoy while reviewing the vastly oversized menu, I ordered a selection crudités, which proved as abundant as any market day basket loaded to feed six! (See photo.)

Delving in required a lot of work, which I would have preferred a commis (a lower-level kitchen team member) to do in the kitchen than I working through all the slicing, dicing and paring. A melon appetizer ordered by my wife was similarly ‘deconstructed’, in that, once again, the diner was obliged to do most of the work in cutting, combining and re-constructing the aged ham (was it Serrano? no telling) and with do-it-yourself melon chunks.

For our main course, plat in French, my wife ordered quenelles de saumon (salmon quenelles) that we both tasted and agreed it was not as refined, light and molten as one should have expected; besides its rough, granular texture, it lacked requisite flavor, in both the salmon itself, not to mention its bland-tasting sauce.

I had much better luck when I ordered braised rabbit and tagliatelle noodles, whose dark, mushroom-enriched sauce exploded with forest-floor, red wine and gamy animal flavors. Rabbit This was a profoundly satisfying dish and married perfectly with a bottle of brut rosé Champagne made exclusively for the hotel by Champagne Cattier in Chigny-Les-Roses in the appellation’s Montagne de Reims sub-region.


La Colombe d’Or’s signature almond tarte, with a border of red and yellow flower petals. Photo: Bess Reynolds / Copyright

All we could think of for dessert was La Colombe d’Or’s house specialty, a toothsome almond tarte, whose dazzling flower petal frame was as simply entertaining as the evocative colors of Provence. (See photo.)

Reservations here should be made well in advance, and be sure to wander through the downstairs rooms of this celebrated inn with its world-class art collection.

La Colombe d’Or, 04 93 32 80 02, St. Paul de Vence, France


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Torrentés Wine, Moving Out of Malbec’s Shadow

Torrontes Wine

Torrentés Emerges from Malbec’s Shadow: In northern Argentina near Salta V, vineyards in Cafayate Valley — which range from  from 6,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation — are ideal for growing Torrontés, the country’s signature white wine.

From one of the world’s loftiest vineyard regions comes an aromatic, tangy tipple called Torrontés (tor-ohn-TEZ) wine.

It’s known as Argentina’s signature white and the Cafayete Valley in far northwest Salta province—ranging from 6,000-10,000 feet in elevation—is the source of some of the best Torrontés grapes. Farther south, the variety is also widely planted in and around Mendoza, a place already familiar to many Americans.


Alberto Arizu Sr., left, and Alberto Arizu Jr. at Luigi Bosca in Mendoza, Argentina.

While initially in the shadow of surging Malbecs from Mendoza, Torrontés has aimed to become an affordable alternative to favorites like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Alberto Arizu Jr., Commercial Director of Bodega Luigi Bosca in Mendoza, Argentina, (imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons), says: “I think there is a greater consumer demand in the U.S. for more fresh, aromatic and dry white wines.” Arizu adds, “The recognition of Malbec and good performance of Argentine wines helped the Torrontés variety.”

But it has been a jagged ascent. In the last decade sales were buffeted by difficult economic conditions in Argentina and adverse exchange rates. This led to a see-saw in sales: Exports of Torrontés to the U.S. swung from 45,000 cases in 2005 to a high of 268,000 cases in 2011, followed by a steep downturn to 115,000 cases in 2014. Sales, now, are on the upswing, rising 3.5% to 119,000 cases in 2015, reports Magdelena Pecse, Director of Marketing and Communications, Wines of Argentina.


Michel Torino in Cafayate Valley, Argentina.Fits Right In

Torrentés Fits Right In

“Torrontés is great for the summertime,” asserts Brian Bowman, Beverage Director, Sun Singer Wine & Spirits in Champaign-Urbana, IL. “Around Mother’s Day, we’ll do a tasting of four-to-six wines, including a Torrontés, to build sales.” He notes the store currently carries three Torrontés: Trivento Amado Sur at $13.99, Le Madrid at $14.99 and Ernesto Catena Padrillos at $10.99.


Julia Nader, Director of Marketing for E. & J. Gallo Winery, importer of the Alamos line, says, “We know that there is a trend toward consumers embracing lighter white wines, like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, and Alamos Torrontés fits that profile very well.”

Marcy Whitman, SVP of Marketing & Brand Development at Palm Bay International, which imports the Callia and Killka brands, concurs: “We are seeing growing awareness among sommeliers, but Torrontés has yet to be discovered by a broader
consumer base.” Callia

Addressing that “discovery” challenge, Francine Kowalsky, Assistant VP, Director of Marketing, Frederick Wildman & Sons, which also imports Astica, La Linda and Michel Torino, advises: “Getting the consumer to sample the wine is one of the most powerful selling tools we have. The key is to do the tasting next to a stack of the wine so that the consumer can purchase right after tasting.”

At Century Liquor & Wines, Manager Jim Verhey notes, “Our Torrontés sales are consumer-driven.” He, too, advocates in-store sampling. Century currently sells Molinos Torrontés for $6 a bottle, as part of the store’s half-dozen wines featured at that bargain price; Molinos is also sold online via a dedicated $6 tab on the store’s homepage. Century also stocks Torrontés wines from Alamos, Crios and Michel Torino.

Torrentés: Food Affinity


Argentine Chef Fernando Navas of Ballerina Restaurant in New York City.

Fernando Navas, an Argentinian chef who owns Balvanera in New York City, says: “We train our staff to explain the attributes of Torrontés and how it pairs very well with our dishes, especially with our empanadas and octopus. We always have our guests try the Torrontés since it’s unusual to find it on many menus.” He adds, “We currently have Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Torrontés at $10 per glass and $40 per bottle.”

Noting the strong food association for Torrontés, at Tower Wine in Atlanta, Wine Manager John O’Brien comments, “Most of our Torrontés sales come from customers whose friends served the wine at a dinner party or had it a restaurant.” Tower currently offers Torrontés wines from Alamos, Crios and Colomé, each for under $15.

Summing up its versatile appeal, Adam Sager, VP, Winesellers Ltd., importer of Zuccardi and Chimango notes: “Merchants can use seasonality to offer an alternative crisp white like Torrontés rather than mainstream Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or others. Torrontés also appeals to consumers who like fruitier wines.”

The author wishes to thank Beverage Media to publish this article, which appears in the June 2016 issue of the magazine.


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L XIV desk

A French Finish Cover._AA160_

Life Imitates Art: In “A FRENCH FINISH” by Robert Ross, a quirky crew of Harvard art historians re-creates a ‘fake’ Louis XVI desk and pass it off as the real thing.

My father wrote this award-winning mystery-adventure and it was a hit back in 1978 and is a wonderful yarn now available at Kindle!

Here, below, is the latest news about another such royal desk built for the Sun King, Louis XIV.

LOUIS XIV’s bureau returns to the                          Château de Versailles

This extremely rare work is one of the very few pieces of furniture commissioned for Louis XIV’s use at Versailles. The folding-top desk, delivered in 1685, is made of oak and veneered with ebony and Brazilian rosewood. It is the work of Alexandre-Jean Oppenordt, the king’s ordinary cabinetmaker, and designer Jean Bérain the Elder, whose lively arabesques are particularly recognizable.


Before turning to writing novels, Robert Ross was a creative director at the Leo Burnett advertising agency. When he retired to Montserrat in the West Indies, he became fascinated with Leonardo da Vinci and learned everything he could about this brilliant inventor and artist and his era.

The Medici GunsThe Medici EmeraldThe Medici Hawks

Each volume of this best-selling trio may be purchased on KINDLE.

Posted in A French Finish, Books, France, French History, King Louis XIV, Louis XVI, Mystery series, Robert Ross, The Medici Emerald, The Medici Guns, The Medici Hawks, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A French Finish by Robert Ross Now On Kindle





A French Finish Cover._AA160_


Robert Ross, my dad, published this book in 1978.  It earned the highly prized Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for an author’s first novel.

It is now available on Kindle.

In A French Finish, a retired Harvard art historian, Professor Emeritus Lewis Tewkesbury, with time on his hands, agrees to a crazy caper dreamt up by one of his former students, Nick Otter.  Their audacious scheme: Create a perfect replica of King Louis XVI’s writing desk from the 18th century, build a bullet-proof back story concerning its ‘discovery’, and sell the forgery at auction to an unsuspecting buyer for millions. With a plot possessing more twists and turns than a woodworker’s drill bit, “A French Finish” combines insights into the arts of forgery along with ample dollops of art history, colorful characters, humor and high-jinks.


Before turning to writing novels, Robert Ross was a creative director at the Leo Burnett advertising agency. When he retired to Montserrat in the West Indies, he became fascinated with Leonardo da Vinci and learned everything he could about this brilliant inventor and artist and his era.

The Medici Guns

On the island, he met Martin Woodhouse, creator of The Avengers television series, and they teamed up as co-authors to pen three adventure novels: The Medici Guns, The Medici Emerald and The Medici Hawks.

The Medici Emerald

Each historical novel is set in Renaissance Italy with Leonardo Da Vinci cast as a kind of James Bond, utilizing one or more of his actual devices, from cannons and flying machines to submarines and other innovations, to solve a host of swashbuckling challenges and romantic escapades. His last novel, ”A French Finish,” won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for the best first mystery by a new writer in 1978.

The Medici Hawks

Enjoy all four!


Posted in A French Finish, Martin Woodhouse, Mystery series, Robert Ross, The Medici Emerald, The Medici Guns, The Medici Hawks | Leave a comment

NYC Retail [Re-]Openings Under The Microscope

Manhattan Merchants Re-Imagine Brick & Mortar Stores

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At Manhattan’s Park Avenue Liquor Shop, moving to a new, much larger space permitted a much expanded selection of fine wines and spirits.

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Whiskey from six continents fill the floor-to-ceiling shelves at Park Avenue Liquor Shop’s new location at Madison and 39th Street.










For any wine and spirits merchant or restaurateur, be she or he new to the business or a multi-decade, multi-generational veteran, to contemplate a re-do of an existing space, a move to a brand new address, or to venture a store the first time is a very big deal. Hundreds of details must be attended to and checked off, from dealing with real estate agents, landlords, architects and contractors to selecting lighting and shelving to investing in the latest integrated sales and inventory control software, the list appears endless, and that is all before placing the first orders with distributors!

Here are six vignettes (pun intended) about five enterprising Manhattan wine and spirits merchants and one restaurant wine director, each of whom has taken the plunge and opened (or re-opened) a new store in one of the most competitive markets in the country, where rents per square foot are sky high and space is always at a premium.

Violetta Wines – A Little Niche on Madison Avenue                                                                                                            

Gift givers and recipients know nice things come in small packages, and Violetta Wines at 161 Madison Avenue certainly delivers, given a mere 1,000 square feet of selling space and another 700 square feet of storage in back. Hailing originally from London, owner Markus Ljunghammer, who had several years of upscale wine-selling experience in his hometown, knew location would be critical to his store’s ultimate success in Manhattan. Ljunghammer says, “The demographic of this mid-town location on Madison is changing rapidly, with many new website and online commerce companies and upscale residents moving in, so it was an attractive neighborhood.”

And the store’s name, how did that come about? “Easy, think of top luxury brands such as Prada, or Bottega Veneta, or a top restaurant like Esca, the name Violetta Wines captures some of that same Italian cachet,” replies Ljunghammer with a knowing, if mildly ironic wink. With just one medium-sized window to display the store’s offerings, he makes frequent changes, with rosé wines featured around the time of the store’s opening on Valentine’s Day this past February. Currently, Violetta’s window presents a colorful mix of artisan, local whiskies from New York State distillers and hard-to-find wines from France, Chile, Argentina and Italy.

Violetta Wines_08312015

At Violetta Wines on lower Madison Avenue in Manhattan, wines and spirits are displayed in handsome wooden racks that make it easy for customers to see a carefully selected variety of hard-to-find brands as well as popular best-sellers.

Assisted by Chris Ferrante, Ljunghammer makes the best of the store’s diminutive size, noting delivering excellent customer service is almost inescapable within its tiny footprint, which in turn, has built repeat business in a very short time. And since Markus puts a premium in searching out scarce bottlings that he says customers don’t often find in other shops in the neighborhood, he adds that he has quickly built a growing following.

Even so, if a customer asks for a popular name brand, either he will grab it from the shelves, the stockroom or, alternatively, special order it no questions asked. Making the most of his less-is-more store ethic, Ljunghammer sums up, “Given the size of the store, it allows us much more personalized attention.”



Grape Collective – An Upper West Side Vinous Story Teller

A born storyteller, Chris Barnes caught the wine bug and transformed his avocation into the Grape Collective, an imaginative mix of bricks-and-mortar retailing combined with an ambitious online media presence whose content is free to anyone interested in the stories behind the wines he features in the store. This 21st century vision of seamlessly integrating traditional retail with a non-traditional, multi-faceted online presence should come as no surprise given Barnes’s background in publishing. Previous to opening the store, Barnes was publisher of the New York Observer and before that as a successful media entrepreneur both on the East and West coasts.

Chris Barnes Grape Collective_08312015

Chris Barnes is the founder of the Grape Collective, a new multi-channel wine destination on Broadway and online, where stories about wine matter more than scores, according the former publisher-turned-wine journalist/wine merchant.

Located at 102nd and Broadway, the physical store is only the tip of an ambitious iceberg of wine-related content at a There, where all content is free, and in the free magazine he publishes, Barnes has assembled a talented team of wine writers who not only write stories about most of the wines he carries, but some also serve as his sales staff. The core of the Grape Collective’s content consists of revealing video interviews Barnes often conducts himself with winemakers around the world including Jorge Muga of Spain, somms such as Adam Binder of the Catbird Seat in Nashville, or smaller importers like Kermit Lynch. As Barnes puts it, his vinous venture is all about ‘points of view, not points.” He is all about access, refusing the route of establishing a pay wall that other wine publications have as their business model as well as those sites created by famous wine critics.

When hiring staff for his store’s opening, he advertised on Craig’s List, but not for those with retail experience as one might assume. No, Barnes was looking for wine writers. There are no shelf talkers in his store, rather in several tables displaying wine the customer will see an iPad set up at eye level; with a few clicks a customer may see and hear a video about the wines, winemakers and domains and estates in front of them for sale. Like other cutting-edge merchants from Net-A-Porter to Warby Parker, the Grape Collective has set its sights on transforming the retail experience, either in its store, via its blogging and social media, and through its growing online presence. Expressing the essential message of his approach, Barnes says, “We want to avoid a fixation on a few adjectives and a reliance on scores, we’re trying to tell great stories about wine.”

Park Avenue Liquor Shop – 80 Years Young


Mike Goldstein, left, and son Eric, right, and Jonathan, in the background, at the old Park Avenue Liquor Shop before the move in February 2015.

Founded in 1934 by Herman Goldstein, Park Avenue Liquor Shop’s move two blocks south on Madison Avenue to the corner of 39th Street clearly sets this merchant up for the next 80 years. With its lease coming up for renewal in 2016, Mike Goldstein, son of the founder and president, and his two sons, co-owners Jonathan and Eric, had difficult decision to make – re-up, pay more rent to the building’s new owners at 292 Madison or consider a move. After considering the downsides of staying the admittedly cramped location and having to pay a much higher rent, the family elected to make a move.

Eric Goldstein recalls the real estate agent listened carefully to the family’s criteria, which included securing a long lease, finding a great mid-town Manhattan location and reaching a relatively affordable rent even though they wanted a much larger retail selling space. It took time to find the right spot, as their then-current location at 292 Madison was beloved by their customers and only steps away from the iconic Grand Central Station. But much to their surprise, a former restaurant on a corner location not more than two blocks south, at 242 Madison, became available and they closed on a deal, still leaving enough time to carefully plan the move.

While their former location boasted 2,200 square feet of selling space—with product reaching literally to the ceiling— and under 5,000 square feet of storage in the basement, the new store almost doubles the ground floor selling space, notes Goldstein. With large windows that afford great daytime light and high 20-foot ceilings, loyal customers don’t have to walk far to marvel at the new location’s spaciousness and an even greater selection of fine wines and spirits than before. Summing up the reaction from their clients, Eric said the family is extremely pleased with the praise they have received since opening on Valentine’s Day 2015.

And with the new address, the basement space grew as well, affording Eric, Jonathan and Mike the chance to build up valuable reserves of hard-to-find rarities that their customers have come to expect, from rare single malt Scotch to artisanal Bourbons, to older vintages of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne, not for a moment forgetting less costly, faster moving wines and spirits. Last but not least as part of the move, Park Avenue launched a completely re-designed website that makes shopping as easy as a few clicks away from its expanded inventory.

Back Label Wine Merchants – From Brooklyn to Chelsea

Patrick Watson, founder and owner of Back Label Wine Merchants, earned his stripes as a talented sommelier at restaurants including Lupa and Blue Hill in New York, One Market in San Francisco, and he brings that experience to Back Label Wine Merchants. But also has a successful background as a Brooklyn wine and spirits retailer, where he founded with his wife, Michelle, Smith & Vine in 2004 at 268 Smith Street. And located at 215 Smith Street, he and his wife next opened Stinky Cheese in 2006, which features not only cheese, but also sandwiches, teas and beer from the borough to brews from near and far.

Back Label Wine Merchants_08312015_650

Curated is not a cliche at Patrick Watson’s Back Label Wine Merchants located in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan. Watson, a former sommelier, brings a food-and-wine oriented sensibility to every bottle on offer.

In late 2014, eager to enter Manhattan, and with Smith & Vine running smoothly by Michelle, Patrick saw an opportunity in Chelsea, and opened Back Label Wine Merchants at 111 West 20th in May 2014. While curated is an over-used term these days, much like the wine lists he used to create, Watson carefully selects a wide range of wines and spirits for the 4,000 square foot store.

He says: “Food is the prism through which I select wines based on my sommelier background. We don’t need eight Sancerre labels, but we taste 80 to choose just one.” The store also boasts an additional 1,000 square feet in the back of the store, where a series of frequent free- and private-paid classes are hosted, all promoted by signage and flyers in the store, via social media and on its dedicated website. Watson also brings in star wine directors and somms to lead classes, including Michael Madrigale, Lisa Granik, and Noah Sugarman, among others.

Assisted by Allison Klug, Manager and Spirits Director, the store also features a huge collection of Bourbons, Rye, Straight whiskies, Scotch, Irish and Canadian brands. And in an echo of Watson’s Brooklyn experience, located right next door, is Stinky Cheese Chelsea, with a collection of cheeses, teas, beers and made-to-order sandwiches. In this way, he can cross sell the products of one store to the other; for example some wines come with a promotion of 10% off a cheese purchase next door on the same day. This is curating taken to the next level, Chelsea style.

Le District’s Challenge to Eataly

Here is a New York City retail-cum-real estate riddle to puzzle over: Will Le District’s 30,000 square feet of French gastronomic and vinous delights do for Lower Manhattan what the 50,000 square-foot success of Eataly at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street did for the Madison Square Park neighborhood?

Le Bar Le District_08312015

Le Bar at Le District is packed every night inside Lower Manhattan’s Brookfield Place, with rotating selection of more than 20 wines by the glass on offer.

If Ryan Mills-Knapp Le District’s Beverage Manager and owner Peter Poulakakos, CEO of HPH restaurant group, have anything to say, it would be: Mais oui, pas de problème! HPH founder Harry Poulakakos, Peter’s father, opened Harry’s Bar, a legendary Wall Street watering hole that is packed every night after the market’s close; today the group has 25 locations, many in Lower Manhattan, including Le District.


Opening night at Brookfield Place’s Le District in May 2015  was festive with a French flair;  jugglers and plenty of tasty hor d’oeuvres and French wines delighted guests.

Nestled in the newly opened $300-million Mall at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan—located a short walk from the towering World Trade Center—Le District features 20 mini-departments of fish, meat, fresh-baked breads, cheese, a chic café with pastries, waffles and a full-service Creperie and an ‘after-hours’ chocolate mousse bar, along with de rigueur imported French boxed-chocolates, fancy fruit tarts, multiple salads-to-go, crusty baguette ham-and-cheese sandwiches, seasonal soups and basketfuls of other culinary delights a la française, including Le Candy Bar, an emporium of delicious Gallic sweets. In addition, Le District boasts an espresso bar, a wine bar called Le Comptoir (The Counter), a cocktail lounge called Le Bar, and two French upscale eateries: Beaubourg, a classic bistro offering French classics from steak-frites to tender fish quenelles and L’Appart, an intimate, 28-seat restaurant whose Chef Jordi Vallès, an El Bulli veteran from Spain, also doubles as Culinary Director of the entire operation.


Inside Le District, its Beaubourg brasserie offers French classics from steak-frites to onion soup to chocolate mousse. The wine list features wines from every principal region across France.

Says Mills-Knapp: “What excites me about taking on this challenge at Le District is that French wine is such an inherent part of French culture and cuisine. From a casual glass to fancy bottles, our guests are able to explore multiple wine-and-food experiences in the range of all our venues.” If you total up all the wines-by-the-glass selections at the different spots within Le District, Mills-Knapp says there are between 50-55 different wines on offer, including 25-30 in Le Comptoir alone, plus another 15-25 additional pours between Le Bar and Beaubourg. (This number does not include each restaurant’s wine list.)

When Mills-Knapp thinks about juggling all these liquid skus, he says: “Managing inventory is exceptionally important here. Our POS system integrates purchasing, inventory and sales in real time; I can place orders through our custom software. It’s a powerful tool when it comes to cost management and it’s easily the most important part of my job.” While open only a month at press time, with the crowds pouring in from early breakfast until midnight, Mills-Knapp forecasts between $5-to-$10 million in beverage sales in 2015, with the lion’s share coming from wine.

A Maine native, Mills-Knapp first worked at Plaza Wine Merchants in Jackson Hole, Wyoming—with plenty of downhill ski time on the slopes—before heading back east to New York, where he started at the bottom as a waiter at Aureole. He soon graduated to being a sommelier at restaurants including Beacon, Spice Market, Tribeca Grill, Corton and Colicchio & Sons. During these posts, he honed his craft and became a Certified Sommelier; he credits Daniel Johnnes and David Gordon as mentors. A college major in American diplomatic history, Mills-Knapp likens the role of a sommelier to the tasks of a State Department Foreign Service officer: A sommelier has to take an instant read of his or her customer or table, put the guest or party at ease, and keep a low, but vigilant profile in terms of service.

Currently at Le Bar, the three best-selling wines by the glass are: 2009 Château Teyssier, St. Emilion, courtesy of HP Selections, a Manhattan-based wine importer/distributor owned by Peter Poulakakos, at $15; a 2013 Sancerre at $14, from rotating group of producers; and a 2014 Château Roquefort rosé, from VOS Selections, at $14. At Beaubourg, the sweet spot in terms sales velocity are wines priced between $50-to-$80 a bottle. And thanks to his experience at other top restaurants, Mills-Knapp says it was not too difficult to snag some vintage gems for Le District’s reserve list, where such wines are poured after a successful IPO or for the nearby Conde Nast marketing team, who take the short walk from their perch at the World Financial Center over to Le District for a sales meeting.

Looking forward to the May/June opening of L’Appart, Mills-Knapp is already planning curated, multi-course Champagne tasting match-ups with Chef Vallès. And since he has become friends with top wine makers from around world, Mills-Knapp is also looking forward to hosting many one-off wine-maker dinners in the same space, where guests can really relax and savor some real rarities in an intimate setting.

As to whether Le District will ever rival Eataly in terms of metrics such as foot traffic, sales per-square-foot, or total beverage sales is a topic that Mills-Knapp does not unduly concern himself; much as a dedicated diplomat on a demanding mission, he is focused on delivering great service, offering tremendous wine, spirits and beer selections and pure French, how shall we say, joie de vivre!

On The Trail of Bacchus –                                                                                                   Wine Disciples Forges An Novel Restaurant/Store Paradigm in Chelsea

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Michael Coll is the founder of Wine Disciples, a wine bar/wine shop located in Chelsea in New York City.

If there is one thing Michael Coll heard over and again in his 25 years as a sommelier and restaurant wine buyer, it was a customer asking him: “Where can I buy this wine?” Unable to proffer directions to a local merchant after stints in Los Angeles, San Francisco and, most recently, at Estiatorio Milos in Manhattan, this Scot from Edinburgh can now finally “close the circle” as Coll eloquently describes his ambitious new retail/restaurant venture in Chelsea called Wine Disciples, which opened in late June 2015.

There is an ‘s’ in the venture’s name for a reason. It represents Coll’s double-doored answer to that ever-asked inquiry noted above: one door opens to an Italian-inflected restaurant, with its dedicated entrance; and right next store, another door swings open to a full-fledged wine store. Located at 129 West 29th, Coll literally bifurcated a vast, empty ground floor space into his architectural/commercial riposte to all those vinous questers in Manhattan and beyond.

Wine Disciples bar_08312015

On West 29th Street in Manhattan, Wine Disciples features both a wine bar/restaurant through one door, where Italian plates and dishes are served with a dedicated wine list assembled by owner Michael Coll, a former sommelier who hails from Scotland.

Wine-Desciples SHOP_08312015

Separated by a thick wall, and right next door, is Wine Disciple’s Wine Shop. Owner Michael Coll is careful to make sure the his wine bar does not offer any wines from the shop; the Wine Shop is still in the process of rounding out selections from France, Greece, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Wine Disciples Enoteca wine bar and restaurant is modern space that boasts a 25-foot high ceiling, 30-some tables, a long, custom-designed pewter bar and, at the back, a private dining room, with a pair of luminous skylights, that can comfortably seat 40 guests. On a recent night, Coll was readying this gustatory annex to welcome a Google-hosted party. Helmed by Chef Brian Leth, his menu offers a rich array of Italian small plates of cheese, artisanal salamis, cured meats and prosciutto, classic antipasti, griglia (grilled fowl, meats, seafood), fresh oysters, and pastas, according to the seasons.

With a thick wall separating it from the restaurant, Coll’s Wine Disciples Wine Shop is likewise a cavernous, yet warm space that will soon offer wines from six continents. For the moment, Coll opened with a rich selection of hard-to-find Napa and Sonoma gems; an array Italian producers from the boot-heel to the Alps; a strong selection of French bottlings from Irouléguy in the Pyrenees to small producers in Chablis and Champagne in the north; and lastly, a carefully curated complement of classic Rieslings and Grüners from Germany and Austria, respectively. Coll is vigilant about differentiating offerings on the Enoteca’s wine list from those wines at the store; but he can readily propose a similar wine from either to his dedicated ‘disciples.’

Whether walk-in customers to the shop, diners at the restaurant, or serving customers online, Coll says, “My hope is that guests will visit us on both sides of the wall, and virtually, to discover new wines and pairings.”

The author wishes to thank Beverage Media to publish this article, which appears in the September 2015 issue of the magazine.


Posted in Bourbon, Food, France, French wine, Grape Collective, Italian food, Italian wine, Le District, Manhattan Wine Stores, Park Avenue Liquor Shop, Spain, Spanish wine, Uncategorized, Wine, Wine Disciples Wine Bar | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment