Wine Rambler on the road: New York City wine merchants

Wine Rambler on the road: New York City wine merchants

After the failed attempt to explore wine merchants in Washington, a Wine Rambler desperate to bring some wine stories home from the USA trip moved north to the Big Apple.

I know what I'm needin', and I don't wanna waste more time.
I'm in a New York state of mind.

This posting does in no way claim to be representative of the wine shopping experience in New York. It is just a fairly random sample of wine shops I happened to walk into while exploring New York. And a few comments by a German wine snob about what German wine delight is on offer to the locals.

Well, you went uptown ridin' in your limousine / With your fine Park Avenue clothes / You had the Dom Perignon in your hand / And the spoon up your nose

New York, by Jerry Ferguson
New York, by Jerry Ferguson

My tour started with Grande Harvest Wines in Grand Central Station. According to their website, GHW take great pride in making wine shopping 'simple and fun'. After slagging of wine experts for confusing customers they also claim to be 'one of the most premier wine merchants in the country for wine and food pairing knowledge'. Sadly, I could not put this to a test, but they were certainly very friendly when I walked into the store (where they play rock music).

The shop is not very big, so imagine my surprise when I found a selection of Austrian wine, especially Grüner Veltliner. Overall, the Germano-Austrian presence is not very strong, it seemed they had more kosher wines than Rieslings, but it was good to see that the Austrians do get some credit abroad for the really nice wine they produce. I also learned that Americans seem to like their wine even more when it has a trendy label or brand; one of the Rieslings Grand Harvest Wines had was J. & H.A. Strub's 'Soil to Soul' and there was also a German Pinot noir from the Rheingau, cleverly titled 'Latitude 50°'.

With a broad selection of wine in a small space, Grande Harvest Wines seems like the ideal shop for commuters or travellers who want to grab a decent 'wine on the go'. There are a few German whites and reds, but not enough to warrant special Wine Rambler attention.

In between I walked past a toys shop that had this strange game on offer; sadly, there was no more space in my suitcase:

After a few hot and humid hours in the sun between the New York Public Library and Central Park, I crossed Madison Avenue to visit Premier Cru wine merchants. Given the name, posh location and well designed interior of the shop you would expect a temple of conspicuous consumption, dedicated to Mouton Rothschilds for thousands of dollars. Far from it, Premier Cru present a selection of reasonably priced wines (only a few wines above $100 and lots for around $20). The main focus is on France and the US, with Italy also well represented. All the wines are very well presented, elegantly decorated on the walls and well laid out on special presentation tables in the room - and all of that without looking pretentious. Staff were very friendly and, from the few conversations I overheard, also quite knowledgeable; on top of that, the female seller was also very cute. Despite all of that, I cannot really recommend Premier Cru for friends of German wine as they had next to no German wine on offer (a few Rieslings from the Alsace though). However, if you are looking for an interesting selection of French and American wine (lots of Pinot Noirs that looked really tempting) in a stylish yet friendly atmosphere Premier Cru could be your shop of choice.

What a contrast to my next shopping experience: Trader Joe's, a grocery store chain that has a wine shop on 14th street. Unsurprisingly, the store is relatively big, with a simple design, and lots of customers moving their wine swag around in trolleys.

The shop features its own advertisement murals (think Mexican pub style) with characters such as a lady holding a wine glass and informing you that she used 'the money I save' at Trader Joe's to buy her first NY apartment - I was seriously amazed to learn that serious alcoholism is an investment. As much as I would enjoy to drink more in order to buy property in NY, Trader Joe's did not excite me. True, they had several reds and whites from Francis Ford Coppola (which I wanted to try for a while), but the overall selection looks very commercial and totally unexciting. There were a few German Rieslings and also a Pinot Noir, but not enough to warrant a visit. Still, I find it quite interesting that both German white and red can be found in the US mass market.

After this disappointment, I moved on to the next merchant on my list, Astor Wines & Spirits - little did I know that I would find a Wine Rambler's heaven. Based in Greenwich Village since 1946, Astor has recently moved to a location on the corner of Lafayette and 4th Street, a historic red brick building that looks very stylish. The doors open into a large basement room that is well laid out, full of wine and yet much more spacious and inviting than Trader Joe's.

Walking through an extensive France-section, a large 'Keep on trocken'-sign leads me to the German selection. And what a selection that is: Riesling by Van Volxem, Künstler, Dönnhof, Müller-Catoir or Christmann, to name just a few of the prestigious wine makers represented here (and there are lesser known ones too such as Reuscher-Haart); also Pinot blanc and Pinot noir, for instance from Heeger or Meyer-Näkel, and Austrian Grüner Veltliner. A 2007 Riesling Kabinett trocken from Clemens Busch sells for $32.99 - I bought it for 7.80€ directly from Busch (9€ inc. shipping to the UK), but the US appears to be much more expensive, so I fear this price is what you will have to expect.

If you think that is all Astor have for the lover of German Riesling you could not be more wrong. First of all, there is a "Rare Dessert" wine cooler that features an impressive selection of ice wine, Auslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen (dry berry selection) from vineyards such as Ürziger Würzgarten (pronounce that!) or Graacher Domprobst; I also spotted a couple of bottles of Wittmann's organic delicacies. Still, this is not the end. Astor have a special climate controlled Cool Room that houses delicate wines from all over the world, for instance Riesling from the early 80's. Prices are not as high as you might suspect. True, there is the inevitable Mouton Rothschild (still below $1000 though) and a few painfully pricey Californian reds and Barolos, but also wines for about $30 and old Rieslings for about $50.

Obviously, wine here is more expensive than buying it in Germany, but Astor's selection of German wine puts quite a few German wine stores to shame. I could have spent thousands of dollars here, but you can also take home a decent German bottle for less than $20. I don't know what else New York has to offer, but if it can beat Astor on German wine it must be amazing.

It comes down to reality, and it's fine with me cause I've let it slide.
I don't care if it's Chinatown or on Riverside.
I don't have any reasons.
Left them all behind.
I'm in a New York state of mind.
I'm just taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line.
Cause I'm in a, I'm in a New York state of mind

Apologies of the grainy pictures - it's the best my mobile camera can do.

Submitted by Julian Monday, 29/06/2009

Spectacular report. Wine-snobbing it in style, indeed.

Submitted by Wine Splodge Saturday, 04/07/2009

This was our local wine shop when we stayed in New York last October. It has, as you say, a seriously impressive wine selection, but also an incredible range of sakes... from the fridge, not warm dishwater temperature. We found it by accident and had much the same reaction as you. Nice spot wine rambler!

Submitted by C Wells Sunday, 05/07/2009

Two other wine shops worthy of a visit in NYC if you like German wines are Chambers Street Wine and Crush Wine and Spirits. Astor Wines is good, prices not so much. In and around NYC you'll find discounters that will ship, sometimes tariff free to the city. is your best bet to find a deal on the odd label. You mentioned Reuscher-Haart, these guys represent GREAT Uerziger values for the US market. They are brought in by the the big name of US German Wine importation, Terry Theise, not pronounced tye-seh, but these. Regarding your statement about German wine in mass market, Trader Joes is not a good example. Since they are german owned, they have a house brand, which represents their paltry german selection, HOWEVER you will NOT find german reds in the rest of the US mass market. Mostly in mass market will you find crap QbAs with clever labels and Liebfraumilch. The most common german wine in mass market that is drinkable will be Nik Weis' St. Urbans Hof low end stuff. I live in Atlanta and our selection is expensive and weak for german wine. I have mine shipped from the NY/NJ area mostly and it is STILL cheaper with shipping. If you make it west to San Francisco, you must check out the German Wine flagship in the US, DeeVine Wine. Here is where you go for your 1929 BA..... Also the ONLY time I get wine that is close to what europeans pay is when DeeVine has their 50% off a case sale for items they need ridding of. Like $12 for a 2003 Mueller-Catoir Scheurebe Spaetlese, that was a DEAL ! I'm savouring one of those right now....

Submitted by torsten Monday, 06/07/2009

In reply to by C Wells

Thank you for that comment - this is very illuminating. The wine part of my NYC visit was quite random, so it is interesting to read what someone thinks about it who has obviously spent much more time there than I have. Astor did strike me as quite pricey, but then I could only compare to prices in Germany and the UK, and especially compared to German prices everywhere else seems really expensive. In fact, I do still buy most of my wine from Germany as, even included the shipping fee, it is cheaper to buy, let's say, Spanish wine from Germany than in the UK. I did, however, think that Reuscher-Haart was good value even in Germany.

Interestingly, I visited both Reuscher-Haart and St. Urbans-Hof last summer (as you mentioned both of them); Mario Schwang, who has taken over from his dad recently, did tell us that he had visited the US and was keen on developing contacts there. I would assume that he would be happy to ship wine directly to you

I have made a note about DeeVine Wine; especially as $12 for a Müller-Catoir sounds like a bargain even in Germany!