Thursday evening, I met Caitlin at Crush, a wine and spirits shop on E. 57th, that was hosting a red Burgundy tasting– four wines from Patrick Bize. We stepped from the store and into the tasting room/storage space, where a large dour man in grey suit pants paced behind white linened tables, and poured mouthfuls of wine. Caitlin, who’d arrived ten minutes earlier, had had the displeasure of having her empty glass disregarded in a mix of outstretched arms. When he finally did pour her a few drops, she tried to engage him in talk–a bait he refused to bite. The treatment I received didn’t fare much better; as he poured wine into my glass, he said not a word. Clearly there was something about this guy, in this midtown establishment, that didn’t like our kind.
Swirling the contents of my glass–containing a touch of 2006 Bourgogne Rouge Perrieres, I stood with Caitlin and watched. A towering redhead in worn jeans neared the table with glass in hand and was informed–“this is a pinot noir from Burgundy.” I guess he looked like a local–a resident from the ‘hood–someone worthy of this guy’s restricted breath, held tight each time we approached. As I sipped, I took not a note, because the whole thing seemed like such a sham. “This isn’t worth blogging,” we muttered from the back. And when I returned for the second pour he asked, “Which one are you on?” As if the place were bustling, as if he had so many to manage, he couldn’t possibly recall who drank what and when.
Forth on the list, but second in my glass was the 2006 Savigny Les Beaune 1er Les Marconnets ($47.89) with hints of bubble gum and red fruit. Where was this Patrick Bize, and did he realize the attitude that was servicing his wine? A man in a black wool coat and suit neared the table and extracted some words from Tight Lips as he sipped, a full-on conversation in comparison to any exchange we’d had. Listed second and served third was the 2006 Savigny Les Beaune 1er Aux Vergelesses ($49.94), with violets on the nose, bright fruit acidity, and vegetal notes, like asparagus.
Before leaving, I scanned the wall of wine at Crush. Categorized by varietal, the wines on wall ranged from Cabernet Sauvignon at one end, to Riesling at the other, with lots of other varietals in between. The problem is that unless you know your wines and labels, you could easily purchase a blaüfrankisch stored beneath the zinfindel heading; or a white Burgundy or pinot gris, in place of viognier. In the section labeled merlot, I found malbac and cabernet sauvignon…you get the picture. There are lots of wines for under $15, which is what most of their cliental were buying. So why the attitude? Were the folks at Crush being selective about who purchased their wines in the midst of a recession? I guess we’ll never know.
Now what puzzles me the most, are the misleading claims illuminated on the store front: “Expert guidance, friendly and knowledgeable wine lovers ready to help.” What??? “Food & Wine-Best New Wine Shop in U.S.” Really now??? I could go on…
Frustrated and thirsty, we left Crush in search of a glass of wine.
Our first stop was Cello Wine Bar, a narrow, dim-lit, brick walled establishment that might have been bearable if it were empty. On Thursday evening there was standing room only, a wall-to-wall after-work crowd drinking Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Cabernet, because there wasn’t much else on the list. What a pity. What a waste of a cute place (minus the flat screen TV) that happens to be located in Midtown on the East Side.
Next up Vero, which believe it or not, fared far worse. Like a frat house that happened to serve wine, Vero was densely packed with the volume to match. The poor maitre d’ barked as we left, offering tables outside beneath heating lamps, where a few souls sat sipping beer and Coke. Where the hell were we? we wondered, neither of us frequenters nor fans of this side of the city. I apologize to anyone who might have referenced any of these “wine bars” from the ones listed on Imbibe New York. I confess to not having visited all of the spots on Imbibe NY’s list, and promise to remove all unworthy establishments.
From the outside, Le Bateau Ivre seemed no more than a bistro. And when we finally caved and sat for a glass at Montparnasse, each wine was more undrinkable than the last–both the 2006 J. Vidal Cotes du Rhone and the 2006 Chinon Sauvion Cabernet Franc from Loire were flabby, like jug wine. Giving up all hope for the neighborhood, we walked and reflected upon the wine snob’s candle that on this night, burned at both ends. Snubbed at Crush for whatever reason, we wandered from one establishment to the next, unable to find a decent place to imbibe. And while neither of us would ever reject wine in a plastic cup, as wine lovers who live in New York, we had to draw the line.
So where did we end up? At the Oyster Bar in Grand Central, so weary and in need of a drink that we sat at the first counter we saw (not even making it to the Saloon), and admired the tiled vault ceilings, relieved to finally be drinking a decent glass of wine.
Imbibe New York welcomes all suggestions! If there is a proper wine bar in Midtown on the East Side, and we missed it, please drop a line!