May 16, 2016
Get Thirsty: Here Are Brooklyn’s Best Wine Shops
For every time you complain about the daily hazards of life in Brooklyn—getting nearly run over by school buses as you cycle along Bedford, or that time your ceiling caved in and the landlord didn’t come for four days, or the regular failings of the [insert your subway line here], just repeat to yourself this one mantra: “At least I have access to some of the best wine and booze in the world!”
It’s true. Brooklyn is killing it with wine and spirits retail. Just about every neighborhood now has at least one shop that features some of the most cutting-edge bottles on the market now. If you are fond of wine-soaked dinner parties or BYOB Peking Duck dinners, then you need to know about these places.
Disclosure: I’ve worked at a few of these shops. I don’t know a better way to learn about wine than selling it, so I have spent many long hours on my feet, stocking shelves and selling bottles, answering a wide range of questions about booze. And here’s something you should know about wine retail: It is really hard work, and relatively low-paying. At a good retail shop, the staff are there because they really love wine and spirits and want to help people find excellent bottles. The places selected below meet that criteria but as well, they emphasize smaller-production, unique wines and spirits that will expand your palate. You won’t find Parker scores listed alongside bottles—instead, there will be well-written tasting notes and details about the producer and climate the wine comes from.
Up on Franklin Street, this is where Greenpointers go for their fix of petillant-naturel, a naturally sparkling bubbly wine that’s full of funk and personality, or something totally unexpected. A wide range of artisanal and natural wines makes Dandelion a sure bet for discovering something new and fun, and there are also classics and value wines. Also, to be well-rounded, Dandelion is a delivery point for Quinciple boxes, as well as for an upstate CSA. Check their website for regular updates are new arrivals, with tasting notes and description of the producers, as well as event postings. Tastings are Thursday from 6:30-8:30pm.
A Bedford Avenue stalwart, there is a range of wines here from $10 everyday tipplers to stinky-sock natural wines to fine, aged Bordeaux and Burgundy tucked away in the Eurocaves. In general, Uva is strong on Old World wines, and the Loire Valley and Beaujolais sections are particularly excellent, as are Germany and Italy overall, but don’t miss out on some of the gems in the domestic section. Lots of great Grower Champagnes here (made by small producers, rather than large brands). In summertime, you can find the very popular Wolffer Estate rosé from Long Island, at least while supplies last. Tastings are on Saturday afternoons from 3-6pm.
Natural Wine Company
As per the name, this shop sells organic, biodynamic, and natural wines made by small producers—aka the yummy stuff. It is conveniently located beside Yoga to the People (you know you’re dying for a glass of Gamay after sweating alongside all those moaning strangers) and near McCarren Park for your boozy picnics. Lots of cool Central European wines here—always a great value and way more fun than everyday Pinot Noir.
I just need to give Vine Wine a shout out for making a clever chalkboard sign every single day, with little tidbits of news made funny, and posting them on Instagram. Bravo, guys. But talking about booze, this Williamsburg shop is beloved amongst the Graham Avenue crowd, who know they can come here for an affordable bottle from the $15 and under section, or a high-end cult Italian wine, or something from the absolutely killer domestic section (there are some really hard-to-find bottles there). The little hand-written labels will tell you about whatever bottle you’re interested in. Winemakers and distributors regularly come in here to pour, and often there is cheese to snack on.
Bibber & Bell
Within a fairly small storefront—conveniently near the L/G train—is an excellent array of wines. Every Friday from 6 to 8, bottles are open for tasting, often with little snacks to enhance the experience. Bibber & Bell offers a monthly wine club delivered straight to you, with various options and price points, which is a brilliant and easy way to taste the best of what’s new and seasonal. Also, originality points for not having “wine” or “spirit” in the shop name.
Located out by the water, Pier has a good selection of wines from both Old and New Worlds, and friendly staff. You’ll find everything you need here, whether it’s an everyday Pinot Noir, a box of rosé, something unique to surprise your palate, or a special bottle of Champagne; it’s a small shop but the range of wines and spirits is quite broad.
For several years now, Bed-Vyne has led the way in offering personable customer service, regular tastings, and great wine to suit every palate. As of recently, they’ve added a selection of craft spirits, including some rare mezcales, and unusual whiskeys, such as James Oliver rye from Oregon. The wines are organized according to taste—as in, fruity, or earthy—which is a brilliant, approachable way to help people find the bottle they are in the mood for. Keep an eye out for wine and spirits classes, coming soon!
Leon & Son
This newcomer to the retail scene is exemplary in every way possible: well-versed but unpretentious staff will help you find exactly the bottle you want. Frequent tastings offer a chance to develop your palate and discover new wines. Make sure to take a look at the especially good domestic selection, which features new wave producers working naturally and on a small-scale (ask about the sparkling wine “Ultramarine,” it’s difficult to find and very special, and about the producer Dirty and Rowdy). Lots of great Loire Valley finds here, and local artisanal spirits. Their Instagram account is pretty happening, by the way.
This is a wine shop that wants its customers to educate themselves and become better, smarter drinkers. There are wine tastings every single evening here. The staff here also offers customizable, private wine seminars. With a wide selection of small-production and natural wines and spirits, and value options as well, you can’t go wrong here. Sherry and sake are strong, as are artisanal spirits like the cult-y Japanese whiskeys. Weekdays tastings are 6-8 pm, and 5-8pm on Saturdays.
Patty Lenartz had a revelation when her husband went out to buy some cooking wine from their local bulletproof glass store, and they learned that it was going out of business. They decided, why not buy it! And the neighborhood is so glad they did. With a selection of majority French wines, a broad selection of bottles at $12 and under, and organic or local wines marked with a star-shaped sticker, you can’t go wrong. There are over 13 sherries here, and over 400 spirits in stock, so you can expect to find familiar brands as well as unusual products like Genever and local distillates like Hudson whiskeys. Tastings are Thursday through Saturday in the event, and keep an eye out for visiting winemakers.
All-around good vibes and good things to drink here. Drinkers of organic and natural wines will find plenty of familiar and affordable options, such as Aphros Vinho Verde, southern French producer Mas Coutelou, and the Alsatian blend from Laurent Barth. Spirits include many artisanal options, and special local products like the whiskeys from Delaware Pheonix, a one-woman operation in the Hudson Valley. On the site, check out the “staff picks” to find out what they’re most excited about now, and the “cellar selections” when you’re looking for a special bottle, like a ’99 Chateau Musar, from Lebanon. The website is regularly updated with the tasting schedule.
Wine here leans hard toward the natural and esoteric. If this seems intimidating to you, that’s understandable. But if you are ready to try something new, funky, and fun, and willing to venture into the $20-30 range, you will walk out of here with something really cool. So give it a shot. Here, you can find certain hard-to-find bottles of natural wine. If you’re not already familiar with the fresh, low-alcohol French wines of Jean-Marc Brignot and Anders Frederik Steen, you need to be, and Thirst is the place to find them. Their “Freedom of Peach” wine is my favorite, and my mouth is watering now just thinking of it.
Bartenders in Bushwick know that Henry’s is the spot to find that obscure cocktail ingredient they’ve been searching for. Henry’s, owned by Henry Glucroft, also the owner of Sunrise/Sunset bar, is strong on unique mezcales, Japanese whiskeys, obscure gins like Mahon rom Spain, and rum. There are some pretty funky natural wines here, like the minimalist bottlings from Frank Cornelissen on Mount Etna, in Sicily, and lots of pét-nat wines that are bubbly, unfiltered, and full of energy. The case in the center of the room has some special bottles like Grower Champagnes and aged Barolos, and the staff is always happy to help you discover something new amongst the eclectic selection. Plenty of value wines here, too. Tastings are most Friday nights, from 7-8:30pm.
Henry Street Wines
If you’ve got your name on the list for dinner at famed (and limited seating) BYOB pizza spot Lucali’s, take a walk over to this superb retailer and grab a unique bottle. Here you will find no big brands at all, and the shop is especially focused on terroir-driven wines that represent the traditional cultures of Italy and Spain. There’s a nice selection of French wines, too. The staff is happy to recommend something for whatever your occasion. There is a small representation of domestic wines, particularly Washington State and the Finger Lakes, in Upstate New Work. Spirits, like the wine, are artisanal and unique, and small-batch bourbon is a particular highlight here. Tastings every Friday from 6-8pm.
Smith & Vine
This neighborhood shop is down the street from Stinky Cheese, so you can take care of your snack and drink needs in one sweep. The $12-and-under table is your go-to for weekday “Netflix and chill” nights. Hard-to-find, aged Japanese whiskeys are a particular draw here, but you can also find mainstays like Old Overholt. Basically, it’s everything you want in a local retailer. Tastings are generally on Fridays and Saturdays, from 5-8, and the occasional Thursday and Sunday.
Brooklyn Wine Exchange
At this friendly neighborhood store, you’ll find a particularly good representation of New York State wines, including wonderful producers like Weimer, Red Hook Winery, and Paumanok. There are many half-bottles, including Champagne, perfect for picnics or dinners-for-one. On the center table are many hodgepodge bottles, all affordable but good. The French selection here is especially well-curated, and the store has a smattering of natural wines throughout. Spirits are strong—you’ll find Mahon gin, an assortments of vermouths and sake, and cultish Japanese whiskeys. There are tastings every day (5-8pm from Monday-Friday, 3-6pm on weekends); and 75-minute classes, free-of-charge, offered on a regular basis. Paying members do have first priority to sign up for the classes; ask at the shop for details on this.
In 2010, Dry Dock opened its doors so that denizens of far-flung Red Hook could shop locally for the good stuff. Here you’ll find a welcoming, organized shop with a friendly dog named Mookie, filled with unique craft spirits, and a wide range of wines, including affordable options. Stop by for tastings every Friday from 5:30-8:30pm, and from 4-7pm on Saturday, and Sunday night.
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