Drink of the Vine
Thursday
Aug142014

Flute

One summer day, I found myself in the mood for some Champagne. Flute is a Champagne bar located at 40 E 20th St and it happened to open earlier than most wine bars do, so I headed over there. I was a bit too punctual with my arrival because they had opened about 30 seconds before I stepped through the door. Judging by the staff’s reaction, they don’t see to many people in there at that time of day. Whoops! As I looked over the menu, the staff made their last preparations and were fully ready for me by the time I decided what I wanted to order. From that point on, the service was very professional and courteous. 

The place has a party vibe even at 4pm. It mixes retro with modern - the place was decorated with vintage looking round metal tables, 1920s style chairs, bubble chandeliers, graffiti-ish paintings of Marilyn Monroe and other bombshells of the time. There was also a private area that was set on a small stage, complete with velvet ropes. To top it all off, techno flapper music was playing. I could almost envision the Great Gatsby themed parties that take place here - girls wearing pearls and tipsily sloshing their coupe glasses filled with champagne. I’ve basically just described a commercial. It was a bit much for me - I felt tipsy without even taking a sip of champagne. 

Wine by the flute (see what I did there?) was $12 to $55, with the average glass being $17. Bottles started at $45 and the most expensive was $3,000. They also offered a flight of 3 champagnes or roses, priced at $32 and $35 respectively. I appreciate the fact that the vast majority of their wine list is real champagne - from Champagne, France. Everything else is just sparkling. Some Cava and sparkling wines from the US and Italy also made an appearance on the menu to add a little diversity. Thumbs up for the selection.

I felt like being fancy, so I ordered the Paul Goerg Blanc de Blanc 2002 for $20 a glass. In addition to feeling tres fancy, I selected it so that I could give you some interesting tidbits about Champagne. Blanc de Blanc appears in some Champagne and it means that the wine is made with 100% Chardonnay. Most Champagne is made with a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Yes, Champagne uses red grapes! The reason the wine looks completely white is because the wine does not have any contact with the grape skins during fermentation, which is where red wine gets its color. The red grapes are used to add body, aroma, and red fruit flavors. Chardonnay provides the freshness and elegance to the Champagne, so a Blanc de Blanc will exhibit these delicate characteristics. The second reason I ordered this wine was because it’s a 2002 Champagne. Most Champagne in the market is nonvintage and uses a blend of wine from different years so that it has a consistent flavor. But perhaps two or three times every 10 years or so, the harvest happens to be so exceptional that it is not blended and bottled as a vintage Champagne. However, part of this amazing vintage is still reserved to use in the nonvintage blends, so you still get to drink it without paying top dollar. Woohoo!

The Paul Georg Champagne smelled like bread dough and a little nutty. It tasted like pear, almond, and fresh bread. The dough and bread qualities come from the prolonged contact with yeast as the wine is aged. Now, I don’t drink Champagne as often as I would like, so I’m not even close to being a connoisseur, but I’ve had better 2002 Champagne. This wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t pay $20 for a glass of it again. 

I liked the selection that Flute offered, but I would like to separate the wine from the location. This is either going to make me sound like a grandma or a giant ass, but this would have been my scene nearly a decade ago. My partying days are behind me and I prefer a chill, intellectual environment where I can drool over a wine list and talk about arthritis wine with the other old ladies geeks in the bar. Flute just seems like a loud lounge that happens to specialize in champagne. If that’s what you’re looking for though, you’ll really enjoy Flute. It’s just not a place I would go to anymore. I give this place a rating of 3 out of 5 flutes.

 

The private are of the bar. So much red. So much velvet.

My glass of Champagne

Sunday
Jul062014

Racines

Last weekend, I went to Racines in Tribeca at 94 Chambers St. It’s a new place that features organic and biodynamic wines, mostly from France.

French winemaking has such a long history of tradition and it’s nice to see it being shaken up a bit with biodynamic vineyards. While this isn’t a new practice in France, it isn’t very prevalent and I was looking forward to seeing a wine list comprised solely of these kinds of wines.

Visually, Racines is everything I want in a wine bar - hardwood floors, marble top bar, an original brick wall, reclaimed wood shelves, cool vintage lighting, and minimalist decor. I was smitten as soon as I walked in. Upon viewing the wine list, my attraction grew larger still. There was a large selection of wines by the glass, 28 choices to be exact, starting at $10 up to $20 with the average glass being priced at $14. The bottle list was quite extensive and like the by the glass list, it featured mainly wines from France with a small selection of wines from the US and other parts of Europe. And all of them biodynamic or organic! I couldn’t wait to get started on a glass. Considering that it was a scorching hot day, I felt a little crazy to be craving a red wine, but I ordered the 2011 David Duband Bourgogne anyway. The wine lived up to my expectations, however. It was a delicate and enjoyable wine with aromas of fresh berries and autumn leaves. It was dry and tasted like strawberry with a hint of baking spices, and a slightly herbal and smokey finish. The only downside was that the pour was a little small for the price point.

The cherry on top of my experience here was the service. The bartender/owner was so friendly and chatted with me throughout my stay. Most of our conversation focused on wine so I was able to thoroughly geek out. After I finished my glass of Bourgogne, he told me that I could try any of the other wines. How could I refuse that? All of the wines looked so good that I probably would have tried to taste through the whole menu if I could, so I asked him which one he would recommend. He offered a few options was a wine made by his favorite family of producers, whom he picked grapes with during harvest in 2011. What?! How cool is that? I really like how involved he is with the wines served here. He mentioned another wine as well, a Chenin Blanc from an obscure region in France called Jasnieres. I love Chenin Blanc and I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to try wine from a region that I will most likely not see in your average wine store or bar. He poured a large splash in a glass for me to taste. The wine had a really interesting candy-like aroma, almost like a saltwater taffy. It was crisp and tasted floral with notes of honey and a nice minerality. It was really lovely!

You may be wondering what a biodynamic wine is, exactly. Ready to geek out with me? In some ways, it is much like organic wine - no chemicals are used for fertilizer or pest and weed control, natural yeast is used for fermentation, and there are very little or no added sulfites.  Many of the biodynamic methods seem borderline superstitious, such as filling a cow’s horn with either manure or quartz, depending on the time of year, burying it for a season, then digging it out and mixing its contents with water to use as fertilizer in the vineyard. It even has some spiritual elements, like harvesting during a particular phase of the moon. What I can really stand behind though, is that biodynamics views the vineyard as one organism, from the soil up, and that it should all be kept healthy using natural methods with no chemical intervention. Much like “good bacteria” keeps your body healthy and balanced, a healthy vineyard begins with a soil rich in the proper bacteria, or flora. Biodynamics promotes this natural balance. The result is a wine that is the greatest, purest expression of the area it came from, or its “terroir”; the aromas and flavors of the elements in the soil are much more prevalent in biodynamic wines. Some French winemakers have used this method to restore vineyards damaged by years and years of using chemicals and found that after consistent use of biodynamics, the wine produced from that lot was even better than wine from their top vineyards that utilized traditional methods.

Back to Racines! The entire experience was what I had hoped for and beyond. I love the chill atmosphere, the knowledgable staff, and the wonderful selection of delicious biodynamic and organic wines. This is a place that I could hang out in all evening and when you’re ethically sipping, why not stick around for a few more another glass, right? Racines is my new favorite wine bar and once I’ve finished visiting every wine bar in Manhattan, this will most likely be my go-to spot. I, obviously, give it 5 out of 5 glasses.

The lovely interior of Racines

The cool shelves behind the bar

My glass of Bourgogne. Although the pours are small, this was after 5 or 6 sips...I was too focused on wine conversation and forgot to take a picture earlier. Oops!