The Journal News, Wine & Food, Wine in Restaurants October 2004   Back to Home Page
From "Something Stellar from their Cellars" by Judith Hausman

Something Stellar from their Cellars

by Judith Hausman

John Crabtree is always ferreting out the new and esoteric to keep his 65,000-bottle cellar at Crabtree's Kittle House stocked with must-have wines. Lately, though, it's been tough to stay head of the cognoscenti.

"We are in an incredibly prolific era of high-end, exceptionally high-quality wine," he says.

But if he had to pick a favorite? The one bottle of which he is most proud?

After some prodding, he chose the 1997 Imposter McCoy from sine Qua Non, which he has on the list for $325.

"Wine maker Manfred Krankl never makes the same wine twice," he says. "One hundred cases a year only. he stumbled upon our restaurant and like it so he sends us some. he chooses you."

Choosing was a difficult task for Jonathan Pratt, too. After all, for Pratt--owner of Peter Pratt's Inn in Yorktown and Umami Cafe, in Croton-on-Hudson and in Fishkill--choosing a favorite wine might be harder than choosing a favorite child.

"Customer love a $48 bottle that blows them away with tannins and fruit," he says. "I'm turning them on to secret wines in the $40 to $60 range that have sold like crazy in the last two years. I still like the big guns, but I've re-focused my list and I'm finding the mid-priced range equally exciting."

So perhaps it's no surprise he chose a 2001 Domaine de Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape, which sells for $85.

To create exciting wine lists, many restaurants rely on long relationships with distributors or vineyard representatives. Others actively seek out the rarest or the smallest production.

Pratt persuaded his distributor to get him a "sublime' Phelps Syrah that he was repeatedly told didn't exist. Billy Ratner, wine director for chef Peter X. Kelly's restaurants for 15 years, tracked down three irreplaceable bottles of 1973 Dom Perignon Enotec ($675 on the menu.)

"We use our networks to et special bottles: a heads-up at a wine show, a visit to a chateau, or feedback from our customers, too," says Ratner. "And a wine becomes special because the winemakers are our friends."

As an example: the Landini family, who made the 1999 Prunaio Viticcio that Ratner and Kelly choose as their favorite.

"Peter stood in the vineyard a year after it was planted," says Ratner. The bottle costs $74.

Kathy Donahue of The Willett House credits owner George Slider with a major commitment to wine over the last four years of his ownership. Under the watchful eye of general manager and wine director, Dennis Gallagher, 900 to 1000 selections wait under the restaurant and a new dining room is planned for wine with a whole wall of racks. While the list range from $35 tall the way to $1700, "California ca is king," says Donahue. It's no surprise that customers choose these big, smooth reds to pair with restaurant's porterhouse and sirloins, or that Gallagher points to 199 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Benziger Family winery as a favorite. (He calls his choice "local flavor,' because the Benziger family "emigrated" to Sonoma from Westchester.)

Is it any surprise, either, that La Panetiere's owner Jacques Loupiac chose a Bordeaux to showcase his cellar, which has between 15,000 and 20,,, bottles/ He likes the 1989 Chateau Nenin Pomerol, which sells for $125, even tough his list include some very old and special bottles, including a 1914 Latour.

He favors the Pomerol becuase it is reasonable, and it matches his French menu.

"I personally find great pleasure when I pick a 'discovery' at any level of growth or region and savor it for what it represents," he says.

Judith Hausman is a restaurant critic for the Journal News.


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