The County’s 16 Best Wine Lists
An Oenophile’s guide to wonderful IMBIBING.
The County’s 16 Best Wine Lists
An Oenophile’s guide to wonderful IMBIBING.
By Geoff Kalish
Photography by Iko
Full-bodied, spicy, crisp or fruity. Aromatic, robust or fragrant. Westchester wine lovers—yes, you—are in luck. I studied dozens upon dozens of wine lists around the county, and did a bit of imbibing myself (just a bit). And I have discovered that, like the cuisine in the area, not only are the wine selections “up to snuff,” some are, well, stellar. Sixteen, in fact, I found to be top-notch.
What makes them stellar? These 16 wine lists have been chosen on the basis of five factors: selection, depth of choices, appropriateness to the cuisine offered, provision of vintage dates and, not to be underemphasized, price. (Unless otherwise indicated, prices cited are for the full bottles.)
Armed with this insider’s guide to the area’s most outstanding wine lists, I invite you to embark upon your own wine-tasting tour. Select a designated driver, make reservations, and then enjoy. Cheers, salud, le chaim, na zdrowie, kampai and santé!
ALL WORLD STATUS
Crabtree’s Kittle House
Restaurant & Country Inn
hands down, crabtree’s kittle house Restaurant has the top wine list in the county and one of the best in the world. Need proof? Its wine menu is so hefty—at 299 pages, it’s more like a small phone book (at last count, it listed 5,500 different wines). And Crabtree’s 1,300-square-foot wine cellar is home to 65,000 bottles. “We consider our wine cellar to be the heart and soul of the restaurant,” says owner John Crabtree. “Wine makers, winery owners and others intimately involved in the wine industry from all corners of the world gravitate to our wine cellar.”
Adds Wine Director Finn Anson: “If people who know anything about wine enter our wine cellar, they’d be on
their knees crying; it’s a mecca
with references—posters, labels, framed news articles—about the great wine importers, distributers, producers, journalists and authors.”
Perhaps the best part: the wine cellar can be viewed through sliding glass doors that separate it from the wine- tasting room. That’s right—a wine- tasting room, which can be reserved for lunch or dinner parties of ten or more, where guests can enjoy a special six-course dinner complemented by...wine.
But it’s not just the number of brands available at the Kittle House or the sensible pricing (many bottles are priced below replacement cost) that is so impressive, but the careful organization of the in-house inventory that brings accolades to this establishment. In fact, with the list now entered into
an interactive database, Crabtree is considering providing patrons with tableside laptop computers to aid in selection. “It’s a fun way for people to select wines,” Anson says. Although many patrons are intimidated by the full list and choose from a frequently changing “short wine-by-the glass” list (a mere 30 selections), or opt for rather traditional big-name products, this is a great place for those who are even slightly adventurous.
For example, rather than ordering Champagne, try the Gruet Blanc de Noirs Brut from New Mexico ($26). Or, from a choice of more than 300 California Chardonnays, opt for one of the elegant but hard-to-find vintages from boutique producer Long Vineyards ($48). In reds, go against the grain and order the rich, intense but little known 1995 Tulocay Cassanova Vineyard Zinfandel ($33) or one of the complex, rarely available Pertimali Brunellos (ranging from $50 to $150 depending on the vintage). And for a memorable after-dinner libation, bypass the port and experience the ripe, robust 1997 Tomaso Bussola Receoto Della Valpolicella Classico ($55 for 500 ml). The biggest spenders could also splurge on a 1900 Chateau Margaux ($9,500), the most expensive bottle in the collection. According to Manager Gregg Graham, a 1945 Mouton Rothschild was sold at the restaurant about a year ago for $3,500; the same bottle would have sold for $7,000 at retail.
Of course, if you’re not a wine connoisseur, don’t worry: John Crabtree and his staff are more than willing and able to help match the right wine with your food—at whatever price point
ALL COUNTY STATUS
a lovely little neighborhood italian restaurant, Amalfi’s wine list begins with 20 choices (10 white and 10 red) offered for under $30 a bottle and continues with a selection of more than 100 well-priced domestic and imported brands, most accompanied by brief, intelligent taste descriptions. To go with that linguini with shrimp, or rotini with goat cheese, patrons seeking full-flavored products under $30 a bottle should try the fragrant 2000 Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay (from Australia), the dry, herbal 2000 Mondavi Fumé Blanc or the cassis-scented 2000 Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon. More expensive bottles that are well worth the tariff include a dry 1999 Hanzell Chardonnay ($60) that has
multiple layers of ripe fruit flavors, a
spicy 1999 Domaine Lucien Barrot Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($39), and a complex 1997 Taurasi Riserva ($45).
Clearly, Almalfi has spent a lot of effort developing its wine list to be consumer friendly. Reading it is like getting a quick Wine 101 course—nearly every entry details the grape and whether the wine is dry or full bodied—and the bottles are extremely well priced. Still have questions? The staff is very knowledgeable and happy to help diners choose.
Flames Steak House
porterhouse, t-bone, veal chops and prime aged meat is what this carnivore haven is famous for. As expected, the selection here highlights reds, with an offering of more than 200 California Cabernet Sauvignons as well as hundreds of reds from Australia, France, Italy and Spain. Modestly priced products that provide good value include a fruity 1999 Ravenswood Zinfandel ($35), a cherry-scented 1989 Mastroberadino Radice ($40) and a smooth 1996 Australian Yalumba Shiraz ($32). Patrons with more demanding palates can choose from one of the top-rated California blends, like Opus One or Dominus (particularly the 1988 or 1989). Also, while at first glance the superb vintages of the renowned 1997 Super Tuscan Ornellaia ($160) and the 1985 La Mission-Haut-Brion ($250) seem pricey, their cost is at or not much higher than current retail price.
Frankie & Johnnie’s
many declare this to be the best steakhouse in the county. No matter how you come down on that issue, one thing is for certain: Frankie & Johnnie’s doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its wines, and not only its red ones. While many steak restaurants provide only a token selection of whites, Frankie and Johnnie’s lists an excellent choice of whites as well as the expected array of top-notch reds—all from a list of more than 400 brands. For example, from California there are dry, elegant 2000 Chardonnays from Chalone ($54) and Cakebread Cellars ($65). Other interesting labels include a spicy 1998 Leon Beyer Gewurztraminer from Alsace ($30) and a crisp 2002 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio from Italy ($40). Top-value reds pairing perfectly with steak or lamb include a fruity 2000 Acacia Pinot Noir ($40), an aromatic 1999 Lucente from Tuscany ($45) and a berry-scented 1999 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel ($40).
Inn at Pound Ridge
originally built in 1833 as a family home, the white clapboard Inn at Pound Ridge serves American cuisine with a continental flavor—and offers over 250 brand of wine, is selected by proprietor Dorothy Treyball in conjuction with the Inn’s maitre d’hotel. “While we offer a variety of wines from California, France, Italy, New Zealand and Chile,” she notes, “we are looking to expand our list to include more top- rated wines—those rated 90 and above.”
To help select the Inn’s wine offerings, Treyball relies on a combination of tastings, word-of-mouth recommendations and most recently, a hand-held Wine Master computer containing thousands of wine reviews and ratings.
Wine menu lists both half-bottles and pleasant choices in four quite modest price categories ($23, $25, $27 and $30 a bottle). The Inn also offers a wide range of after-dinner drinks, running the gamut from Armagnac to port to grappa and eau-de-vie. Notable bottles include a slightly sweet, straw-colored 2000 Marc Bredie Vouvray ($32), a dry, fruity 2000 Merryvale Chardonnay from Napa Valley ($40) and a deep red,
spicy Rhone-style 1999 Sean Thacrey “Pleiades” from California ($44). That 1999 Ferrari Carano ($54) would go nicely with a filet mignon or prime rib.
nestled amid lovely grounds of blooming lavender, this elegantly appointed Provençel-style restaurant has a well deserved reputation for being an extraordinary French restaurant. La Panetière not only offer impeccable service and unforgettable meals an excellent wine list. Its offerings are evaluated at blind taste tests conducted among its staff every Saturday morning.
Over the past 10 years La Panetière’s wine list has been markedly expanded with bottles priced with considerable restraint. While heavily weighted towards French vintages, its list of over 900 products offers some excellent choices from California, particularly whites and reds from Grgich Hills and Jordan wineries. “We are always interested in diversifying our wine
list,” notes proprietor Jacques Loupiac, “and have been researching more wines from California as well as new wines from different parts of the world including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.” Loupiac selects the restaurant’s wines with sommelier Bertrand Despinoy.
A particularly consumer-friendly feature La Panetière offers is a wide selection of half-bottles, allowing patrons to match separate wines to individual courses or to set up their own tastings of multiple brands with a single appetizer or main dish. Some standouts that will not totally empty the wallet include a dry, elegant, pale yellow 2000 Olivier Leflaive Meursault ($95), a
velvety, garnet-hued 1995 Pavillon Rouge ($95) and three fruity Volnays from Drouhin.
located in the magnificent former j.p. Morgan estate and surrounded by lush green fields and breathtaking views of the Hudson Valley landscape, Le Château is known not only for its panoramic views but for its superb classic French cuisine and premier wine list. While only 120 brands are listed, choices here span a wide range of tastes and prices, with some notable bargains offered. In whites, try the crisp 1999 St. Clement Chardonnay ($35) or the dry, fragrant 2000 Ladoucette Pouilly Fumé ($45) or the 2000 Mastroberadino Greco Di Tuffo ($35), which has an aroma of ripe fruit and almonds and a dry, crisp taste. Two well-priced reds that mate equally well with fish, fowl or beef are the concentrated, flavorful 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Panísse ($55) and the fruity 1999 Prosper Maufoux Moulin-a-Vent ($45), which should be served slightly chilled. Albeit more expensive, the 1982 Chateau St. Pierre from St. Julien in Bordeaux ($150) is a superb, little-known red with intense bouquet and flavors that match even the heartiest fare, like the roasted rack of lamb in a mustard honey glaze or the cornish hen with cioppollini onions, mushrooms and bacon.
Peter Pratt’s Inn
the first-rate new american cuisine,
including grilled venison in a maple cranberry sauce, truffled mushroom ravioli and pan-seared salmon roulade at Peter Pratt’s Inn, is complemented by selections from a superb wine list.
Incorporated on the Inn’s markedly expanded and upgraded list of almost 400 brands are many very popular products, like Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay and Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a number of so-called cult wines such as Turley Zinfandel, Cline Cellars Mourvedre
and Paul Hobbs Merlot. Bottles are
generally reasonably priced and in some instances offered at or below local retail cost. Consumers who complain that all California Chardonnays taste alike and rarely measure up to French white Burgundy should try the crisp, complex 1998 Arrowood Chardonnay from Sonoma ($60) or the elegant 1998 Merryvale Silhouette ($100). Patrons tired of bland Merlots should experience one of the concentrated vintages from Pride, Newton or Swanson. And very few bottles of red Bordeaux (at
any price) top the intense concentrated bouquet and flavor of the 1997 California Cabernet Sauvignons
from Cardinale ($200) and Joseph Phelps ($200).
while over a third of the more than 300 brands listed on the wine menu of Tombolino Restaurant, a homey, cozy Italian eatery, are from Italy there are enough choices from California, France and other locales to please most palates. Owner Pietro Siciliano notes: “Our patrons have become more educated and knowledgeable about wines. Over the past ten years, they are more discerning about what they eat and drink.”
The pasta specialties served here—such as lobster ravioli and agnollotti filled with ricotta, spinach and parmigiano cheese—mate perfectly with some of the simpler reds such as the 1999 Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese ($26), the 2001 Rufino Chianti ($21) and the 1997 Mont Gras Merlot from Chile ($21). For good value with filet mignon or French rack of veal, try the flavorful 1997 Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba ($37), the fruity 1996 Chateau Gloria St. Julien ($65) or the complex 1996 Castello Banfi Summus Montalcino ($90). Unfortunately, whites lack vintage notation, but Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc and Jordan Chardonnay ($48) are usually good bets.
once viewed as a country that produced
excellent sweet fortified red wines (port), slightly fizzy, innocuous whites (vinho verde) and over-oaked heavy table reds, Portugal now exports a number of tasty whites and fruity, complex reds. Recent vintages from Portugal are generally very well priced and marry well with a variety of fare. A boon to area consumers wishing to experience these new bottlings, Caravela stocks a good range. For example, for under $25 a bottle, patrons can choose from six dry, fruity whites like the 1999 Cardeal Dao ($22) or the 1998 Joao Pires ($25). Top choices among the dozen reds priced at $30 or less a bottle include a berry-scented 1997 Quinta de Pancas ($30), a full-bodied 1999 Tinto da Anfora ($27) and a smooth 1999 Quinta de Parrotes ($27). They all go down well with the Mariscada with green sauce or elegant paella. At the end of your meal expect proprietor Fernando Cabral to offer you port or another after-dinner drink.
for italian wine aficionados, IL CIGNO IS heaven here, with a selection of more than 600 bottles from Italy and an array of choices in every price and taste range. However, since Italian wine can be named after a single varietal (e.g., Sangiovese), a region (e.g., Chianti), a town (e.g., Soave) or carry a proprietary label (e.g., Summus), careful perusal—or assistance from the knowledgeable staff—may be necessary to locate the right wine to match both taste and pocketbook. Some suggestions with seafood are the fruity 2000 La Segreta Bianco from Sicily ($28) and the 2000 La Frosca Soave ($35). With heartier dishes (highly recommended is the pasta with wild boar and the homemade tagliarini pasta in a sauce of cheeses from goat, sheep and cow’s milk) experience one of the rich, velvety deep ruby Bologna Barberas, intense Altare Barolos or a Brunello from the highly touted 1997 vintage.
located in A charming
colonial home near the center of town, the Brasesco family’s Emilio Ristorante is a longtime, popular choice for those looking for authentic Italian cuisine and an excellent selection of wine
to enjoy it with. Making selection consumer-friendly, each of the more than 200 predominantly Italian and California brands listed are followed by brief, easy-to-understand tasting notes. The wine cellar also contains more than a sprinkling of outstanding proprietary products rarely found at other establishments. Some of these worth serious consideration include a lush 2000 Jermann Vintage Tunnina ($75), a soft, fragrant 1999 Gaja Promis ($49) and a 1995 Banfi Excelsus ($85) redolent of ripe berries. Owner Sergio Draseco notes: “We are constantly updating and upgrading our list.”
WINE BY THE GLASS
Tuscan Oven Trattoria
what an unexpected but exceedingly pleasant surprise to discover this gem of a Northern Italian trattoria sandwiched in between a CVS and a Blockbuster video store. Owner Anthony Pirraglia once owned a wine shop, so it’s not surprising that he knows his wines. And while many county establishments offer a choice of wine by the glass, the selection here is quite exceptional in range. Whites run the gamut from a fruity, slightly fizzy Prosecco ($7) to a citrusy 2000 Columbia Winery Pinot Gris ($8) to a full-bodied 2000 Raymond Chardonnay ($8). In reds, stick with the Italians, like the 1999 Banfi Centine ($8) or the 1998 Fattoria Poggio a Pappiano Flocco ($10) or the rich, spicy Fontanafredda Barolo ($15).
UP AND COMING
( 914) 277-4580
finch tavern, partly owned by actor AND
director Stanley Tucci, has in its first year already built up a list of 200 brands (predominantly recent vintages) that suits the fare served remarkably well. Among what’s served: beef short ribs scented with garam masala, braised veal shoulder on a creamy bed of Parmesan polenta and Atlantic (farmed) salmon glazed with soy, lime and honey.
One neat feature for wine lovers here: 25 wines are offered by the 6-ounce glass or 2-ounce taste, allowing patrons to organize a sort of mini-tasting. Notable full bottle whites include a concentrated, pale yellow 1997 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris ($70), a rich 2001 Rombauer Chardonnay from Italy ($62) and an elegant, herbal 2001 Jaffelin Pouilly-Fuisse ($32). In reds, opt for the rich black-currant bouquet and flavor of the 2000 St. Clement Merlot from Napa ($45) or the 1999 Lava Cup Reserve from Sierra Foothills of California ($55), which has a bouquet and flavor of ripe fruit.
as expected, the list at this relative newcomer serving new
American cuisine focuses on bottles from recent vintages. What makes the selection of almost 150 brands engaging is the wide spectrum of modestly priced bottles from a number of wine-producing regions. In whites, try the superb, dry fruity 2001 Sancerre Le Chene, Lucien Crochet ($42) or the crisp 2002 Chimney Creek Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand ($19). Well-priced interesting reds include a 2000 Onix from Spain ($21), a 1999 Snoqualmie Syrah from Washington State ($28) and a 2000 Shiraz President’s Selection, Wolf Bass ($34).
JUST OUTSIDE THE COUNTY
xaviar’s at Piermont
peter X. kelly’s three establishments (Xaviar’s and the freelance Café & Wine Bar in Piermont, and Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar in Congers) offer exceptional wine selections. The list at Xaviar’s is shared by the Freelance Café, providing a choice of more than 750 fairly priced bottles with a focus on American and French vintages. Some noteworthy choices include a 1999 Millbrook Reserve Chardonnay ($35), a refreshing 2001 Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé ($36), a 2000 Martinelli Jackass Hill Zinfandel ($175), a wide range of Meritage wines and for the connoisseur, over three dozen Burgundies from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
The more modest list at Restaurant X offers a range of brands in almost all price and taste categories, with some notable bargains among the imports from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. “Our whole wine list is online and our cellar is constantly evolving,” notes chef-owner Peter Kelly. “Those checking our Web site [www.xaviars.com] may find some of the wines gone, but then again, we may have some beauties not yet listed.” For a special dining experience, ask for a multi-course Chef’s Tasting Menu inspired by the season’s bounty, which can be paired with the appropriate wines.
Geoff Kalish is a Bedford resident and a former wine columnist for The New York Times Westchester Weekly section. He is also co-author of Wining & Dining in Westchester.