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NYC Wine List: Natural Selection

Posted on  | January 20, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Vinateria carries 125 wines, many priced around a $50 sweet spot.

In New York’s churning restaurant scene where neighborhood joints are challenged to over-deliver, wine becomes a valuable tool for small restaurants aiming for an edge. Some of the globe’s lesser-known grapes, regions and styles can become calling cards for dining experiences with a point of difference.


Up in Harlem, Vinateria is beating the pants off local competition. Opened in early 2013 by locals Yvette Leeper-Bueno and husband Adrian Bueno, it is pulling crowds nightly. It’s homey and chic at the same time, relying on antique church pews, vintage lamps and stainless accents. 

The talented young chef, Gustavo Lopez (Scarpetta, Hearth, Del Posto), cooks with market-fresh ingredients for his Italian/Mediterranean menu. And his house-made pastas are as good as any served in some of New York City’s heavily-starred Italian joints. Menu items are grouped by plate sizes: small, medium and large. Small plates include Golden and Red Beet Salad with Cripsy Pistachios; and Grilled Baby Artichokes with Lemon-Anchovy Sauce. Medium plates are all homemade pastas. Large plates feature Sautéed Artic Char with Salmoriglio, Dill Potato Purée and Swiss Chard. 

The wine list—125 selections, concentrated on small producers—and the artisan cocktails are the work of Gabriela Davogustto. The 125 selections change as Gabriela’s new discoveries are added. Says Davogustto, “When I started creating Vinateria’s wine list I had in mind wines that I truly loved, due to their honesty and the way that they expressed their terroir. They were made with a high respect for their vineyards and the nature that surrounds them, and with little or no intervention at all.” 

On the list, large categories (White, Red, Rose and Sparkling) are broken down further as Light, Medium or Full. Prices for by-the-glass are $10-$15 while bottles run from $40 to $150 with quite a few around a $50 sweet spot (2010 Contra Soarda Marzemino Nero, $56; Los Bermejos Diego Seco 2012 from the Canary Islands, $52; 2012 4 Kilos Vinicola “12 Volts” red Mallorcan blend, $50). Wines that customers love are the Rafael Palacios Godello 2011 ($66), Foradori’s Teroldego 2010 ($55) and a Côtes du Rhône Les Cranilles from Vins de Vienne ($52).


Bay Ridge—the end of the R line—has changed much in the past couple of decades. In the midst of this multicultural mash-up sits The Owl’s Head wine bar. You could hit it with a hub cap pitched from the Gowanus expressway. 

Owner John Avelluto migrated here from Gravesend a decade ago and, being a wine lover, figured the neighborhood needed a wine bar. So he created The Owl’s Head. Wines are diverse, the staff is knowledgeable, and prices are real. 

“The Owl’s Head seeks both quality and surprise.” says Avelluto. “I often select wines from off-the-beaten-path locations or uncommon, indigenous varietals that don’t get a lot of attention in your neighborhood restaurants. If we are featuring an international varietal, we are most likely to show it grown in an unexpected context [i.e., Syrah from high-elevation Penedes rather than the Rhône], but with attention paid to balance. In terms of quality, I maintain a list that features good vineyard practices, with most selections exhibiting organic or Biodynamic certification if not full-on ‘natural.’” 

The ever-changing old school chalkboard at The Owl’s Head

The 14-bottle wine list is on a chalkboard next to the maple bar, which is good, since it changes daily. Glass pours ($8-13) recently included the Louis Antoine Luyt 2013 Pipeño Pais (Mission grape) from Chile’s BioBio Valley ($8) and a Falerio DOC 2012 (Pecorino, Passerino and Trebbiano) from Tenuta De Angelis in the Marche. Bottle prices settle into the wallet-friendly $28-$39 range. A special, oft-changing Reserve list recently had six offerings, including two from the Scholium Project. 

Avelluto is excited about their collaboration with The Red Hook Winery nearby to make a proprietary blend: The Owl’s Red. Released in December 2014 on their three-year anniversary, it is a 2009 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from three Long Island vineyards (Onabay, Macari and Jamesport vineyards), priced at $10 glass/$38 bottle. One of the longest running entries on the list due to its popularity with regulars is a pear cider from Domaine Pacory Domfront in Normandy, France ($10/$35). 

There is a short but interesting list of cheeses, charcuterie and sandwiches, and specials often draw from the diverse cultural influences in Bay Ridge. For example, the Sicilian and Middle-eastern contingencies inspired chickpea and herb “hushpuppies” topped with lemon ricotta ($7). Avelluto is also an artist, so artwork from several local artists deck the walls.


The east Village has a sauce-pot full of Italian restaurants, and east Second Street is home to three or four of them. One of the best, if less-well known, is Il Posto Accanto, now in its 15th year. The owners are Julio Pena and his wife Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta, or Bea to regulars, who does the home cooking that brings people back time and again. She is a perfectionist; homemade tagliolini with lemon and shrimp or the tripe alla Romana braised in tomato sauce with thyme
and Parmigiano-Reggiano are just the tip of the iceberg. 

 Il Posto Accanto in the East Village.

This cozy spot has no fewer than 175 wines spread over three wine lists. Vinny Arce, an old friend, created the 50-plus bottle winelist, which features a wine from every Italian region on it. He sees the current best value as a Therra Poder Nuovo A Palazzone 2009 from Tuscany ($48). An interesting feature is that about half of the regular list is available either in half or quarter-carafe or by-the-glass. Pricing for a half-carafe is 70% of bottle price, quarter-carafe is about 40% and a glass is around 30%.

The “Riserve” list features 50 rare and complex bottles for the more educated and advanced wine lover. And “Gabrio’s Selection” 75-bottle list is a tribute to Beatrice’s brother who was the first sommelier at Il Posto Accanto. He added an international touch with wines from France, Germany, USA, Australia, Israel and Italy. Some wines don’t even make it to the list but are listed on the blackboard until they run out. Overall, prices run from a nicely affordable $35 for two dozen up to a Sassicaia 1988 ($920).


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