New York City’s Top Wine Lists: Famed Sommelier Garrett Smith Deciphers them for you
What sets Garrett Smith, the sommelier at Daniel, apart from so many other top sommeliers is that he isn’t a price snob. He has a knack for framing wine lists for everyone and every budget. “Hard to believe, but while Daniel’s wine list certainly has verticals (long range of vintages of one wine) of several of the top houses in the wine world, you’ll also find values in every category. With the Michelin-starred scene no longer restricted to the inordinately wealthy Upper-East-Siders or trust fund babies, value is something that’s necessary,” explains Smith.
Always on the hunt for a good value, Smith went through the wine lists of restaurants around New York City that are of the same caliber as the one where has worked and selected value wines that would pair along with the cuisine of that particular restaurant, all while maintaining a wine budget of $175, which is the number he came up with that would be appropriate to spend to accompany a tasting menu at any of the following restaurants.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
I look at a restaurant like Cesar Ramirez’s tiny restaurant and think that I want to drink wine that is only going to elevate the taste of the food, and not get in the way. My mind drifts immediately to Riesling, and here we find a beautifully complex example from Hirsch, in Kamptal, Austria. German and Austrian vineyard names never cease to amaze me, and this is called Heiligenstein, or “Heavenly Rock,” from the 2003 vintage, at $80. The Hirsch wines are incredibly pure and fragrant, albeit dry examples of world-class Riesling.
Well, that’s great to begin, but we might need some red later, and one wine to me carries a lot of the same structural components as a Riesling in terms of its complexity but also acidity, and that’s Beaujolais. Couple this with the fact that at $95, you can find a Cru Beaujolais from one of the “Gang of Four”, Jean Foillard, I think it’s a steal. The “Cote du Puy” is one of the most highly regarded vineyards in the Cru of Morgon, and as such, the resulting wine one of the most complex styles of Gamay. Think of it as similar fruit to Pinot Noir, great complexity, and will actually pair more effortlessly with a greater number of dishes, and it’s less expensive. Boom. Total cost: $175
Home base for me. I am always taken aback by how many options under $100 we have on our list, where you can also find a magnum of Henri Jayer for $21,000. This is pretty easy, though. Chef Daniel is from Lyon and two great wine regions surround Lyon: Burgundy and the Rhone Valley. Chef seems to love both, as well. You’ll find even his fish dishes are influenced by the red wines of the regions. Earlier courses in the tasting menu include shellfish and earthy flavors, which takes me again to Riesling or to a white Burgundy as well. I often look to a producer, Pierre Boisson of the Boisson-Vadot family, who is based in Meursault. The 2011 Bourgogne Blanc ($80) is complex, and has a little of that familiar flinty minerality and roundness to the palate, but still bright acid to balance the saltiness of oysters, which frequently are part of the tasting menu. For a someone who prefers a slightly more opulent style, look to J.L. Chave’s 2011 Saint-Joseph “Celeste,” a perfect example of his mastery of the Marsanne and Roussanne grapes, which can so easily get overripe, yet he has reigned in their power beautifully. This has layers of texture and stone fruit flavors, impeccable and perfect for $80.
To complete the second half of the menu, I look straight to the Northern Rhone valley and also to Saint Joseph, where Syrah is king. Etienne Becheras makes tiny amounts of Syrah which is deceptively light, as the color in the glass would have you thinking of a more opulent wine, when really the black pepper spice and subtle fruit tones season the food perfectly without being obtrusive. The 2011 “Tour Joviac,” from his older vines, is only $85. Total cost: $165
Eleven Madison Park
Found a list that might be even more challenging than that of Raj Vaidya’s work at Daniel, and that’s Master Sommelier Dustin Wilson’s compilation of incredible selections from all over the world here at EMP. That said, still hard to find a bargain. Here again we have a very food-focused restaurant. I always remind myself that we wouldn’t be in these restaurants were the chef not fantastic; then again, Daniel Boulud loves wine with a passion, and he and his chefs clearly take it into consideration when crafting the menus. Here, I want the wines to play in harmony, given the parade of flavors that will be following. I want you to read harmony as complex, but not ostentatious or too opulent. I would start with a stud of a wine from the Montlouis-sur-Loire, a region you can think of as similar to Vouvray. Francois Chidaine is not only the top producer of the area, but also essentially the mayor. His 2012 Clos du Breuil “Sec” is bone dry, mineral and incredibly refreshing. Chenin Blanc doesn’t usually make me croon, but this is crisp and makes me thirsty for more. Especially if it’s only $60. Later, I think of Dustin’s time in California and am inspired by Pax Mahle’s 2012 Wind Gap “Sceales Vineyard” Grenache, a cool-climate take on the grape more similar to what you’d find in the Southern Rhone than to anything made by Manfred Krankl. Think subtle red fruit, a light spice and some savory, meaty qualities, and under 13% alcohol, all for $90. Total cost: 150
Italian wines are my Everest. So hard to understand at times, so I stick to what I know is great, mostly so I don’t confuse myself. I probably should have said my Vesuvius, huh? I thought of two ways to go here: A 2013 Riesling from Kuen Hof ($80), near the border of Austria, a dry and pleasantly fruity take on the grape which is catching hold in Italy. Another thought was to look to Santorini, especially with the fresh seafood cuisine that Marea offers, and to look to one of my favorite estates from when I visited, Gaia (YAY-uh). The Thalassitis Assyrtiko ($60) is salty, fresh, crisp, and brings to life the flavors in such fresh fish presentations – not to mention how entirely under-appreciated the wines of Santorini are.
Looking to red later on, I wouldn’t choose anything too heavy, and would look to Ar.Pe.Pe., a winery in Valtellina (Marche), producing stunning wines. Their 2011 Rosso di Valtellina ($79) is 100% Nebbiolo, and provides a lighter, more floral yet spicy version of the grape, rather than the harsh, concentrated and hugely tannic versions of Piedmont that need decades to chill out. Total cost: $139-159)
This was the granddaddy of them all, but I think I did it. You have to remember that gratuity is already lumped into the prices of everything in Thomas Keller’s two flagship restaurants, and so the prices seem hugely inflated. That being said, that would never be able to completely enter our minds as the consumers, as we just see a number without the asterisk after each of them to explain that situation.
So! I chose one of my favorite producers from the Mosel in Germany, Willi Schaefer, and their 2011 Gracher Domprobst Riesling. An underrated vintage and an underappreciated producer together producing a delicious, sumptuous wine of great complexity, soft fruit-forward character and hardly any real sweetness to speak of, just enough to balance that bright acid. Only $80!
Rolling out around the fish course would be a 2012 Syrah from one of the real kings of Cote-Rotie, Jamet. Tiny amounts of wine sneak out of this domaine, and one of them is a Cotes-du-Rhone just entitled “Syrah,” and it has everything I want from Syrah – dark fruit, black olive (in a good way) and black pepper, a little savory smoked meat in the background and great balance. Like I said, they are masters, and to find a wine from them for only $90 is a steal. Total cost: $170