A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Jul 9.

Special Feature -

The Grape Escape - Let's face it: wine is intimidating. Between the vintages, vineyards and varietals, it's a serious subject for sensitive palates. Even more than with food, there seems to be an endlessly expanding number of options. And perhaps, most prohibitively, the price of bottles can range anywhere from cheap entrée to college education. Determined to add to our oenophilic educations though, Vince and I ventured into the Grape Escape, a tannin-drenched sequel to May's Vintage Bar Crawl (see May 6.)

Veritas - 5 E. 20th St., Gramercy Park

Our first stop was Veritas, where Scott Bryan's New American cuisine has been earning attention for six years now. Even more attention-grabbing is the wine list, a sprawling, encyclopedic document that can be purchased for a hefty $70. Its cellar also stocks over 100,000 bottles of 3,000 varieties, all lovingly documented and categorized. The wines-by-the-glass list was of course easier to choose from, with a constant rotation of about twelve choices. I went with E. Pira & Figli – Dolcetto d’Alba ‘Chiara Boschis’ – Piedmont, Italy '03 ($9), a satisfying full-bodied red that they also sold for $29 a bottle. It had a richness and a depth characteristic of Italian reds, which explains why they're such a crowdpleaser.

Veritas however didn't seem to be as much of one. Admittedly, we were there at six on a Saturday, but the small, overly minimalist dining room was almost entirely empty. The few patrons there were all well over sixty, giving the atmosphere a nursing home feel. It does make sense since Veritas is a more conservative and classic restaurant than many of its up-and-coming competitors. Another reason for the lag in business may be the arrival of Cru, a newer three-star restaurant also famed for its formidable wine list that just happened to be our next stop.

Cru - 24 5th Ave., Central Village

What a difference eleven streets make. Although it felt just as stuffy and formal, Cru was packed and bubbling with energy when we turned up. We sat at the bar, perusing the more generous offerings by the glass. At that point, we both decided to take advantages of their 3 oz. tastings rather than the 6 0z. glasses to try more. I started with the Champalou Vouvray Brut NV – Loire, France ($5), a very refreshing sparkling wine that cleansed my palate from the heavier red. It would make a nice opening drink before a big meal, like a liquid amuse bouche. Next, I went with a 3 oz. taste of Rose de Loire, Chateau Soucherie – Loire, France '04 a mild and muted rosé that had a fragrance of roses in its bouquet. I enjoyed this wine too for its florid flavor, which was vastly differently from the two previous wines I'd had.

Cru didn't seem like the kind of restaurant I would eat at, with the clientele mostly double my age. But I really enjoyed my experience at the bar and talking to Ken the bartender. He was clearly knowledgeable but not pedantic, and his pours pushed the limits of three ounces. Our time at Cru and Veritas also created a nice contrast between the upscale and older fine dining establishments we'd hit so far and the more fun, younger winebars we were about to visit.

Bar Veloce - 175 2nd Ave., East Village

Next we visited Bar Veloce, a sleek white sliver of a bar. The crowd here (and even with only ten people, it felt crowded) was far more eclectic, ranging from mid-20s yuppies to bald, tattooed lesbians. It seemed like it could be a cool scene though I didn't like the bartender here as much. He was efficient but he looked angry and preoccupied, pacing the cramped aisle behind the bar like a scowling bulldog.

In addition to their collection of sakes and Italian wines, Veloce also served a menu of panini and antipasti. They looked appetizing but I stuck with wine, ordering a Gravina Botromagno - Puglia '03 ($7). It was autumnal, dry and crisp with just a hint of foregone sweetness. It's a wine that could be paired with a fish like cod. It could also make a nice assertive offering for a wine and cheese party or, in this case, serve as an interesting fourth glass on the third stop of a wine crawl.

In Vino - 215 E. 4th St., East Village

Finally, we reached In Vino at nine when it was in full swing as a lively East Village enoteca. All the tables were taken but luckily, we claimed the last two seats at the bar. We talked to a girl who did press for Bloomberg and was running a half-marathon in the Bronx the next morning. We finished with Passito di Pantelleria - Minardi, Sicily ($10), a dark-burgundy brown dessert wine that reminded me of lots of other dessert wines I've had.

The primary flavor was raisin with hints of similar fruits like prunes and dates. The bartenders were too busy keeping everyone's drinks full but we had a lot to talk about with the girl and a sweet wine to savor. I realized that, for all of its classifications, regions, years and grapes, wine is something that should be enjoyed more than analyzed. As I finished my fifth glass, tipsy and happy, it was clear that, past all of its highbrow pretensions, it's really just another one of life's simple pleasures.


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