New York City is back! After more than a year of carefully being cramped up in tiny apartments, properly social-distancing, and doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19, New Yorkers are out and about and ready to enjoy their summer! Parks, restaurants, streets: you can feel it everywhere! There’s an energy to this city in 2021 unlike anything else I've experienced.
Newly transplanted from the west coast, I, your narrator Akaash Saini, come to New York city in search of answers: Where can I find somewhat decent avocados? (Spoiler, you can’t…) Where can I develop a daily oat milk cappuccino habit? (Wait…what’s a flat white?) And finally, where can I find a wine shop that excites me?
While exploring Harlem, I came across a bottle shop called the Harlem Wine Gallery. The selection was impressive. Here I am, off of the very busy and lively 125th street, with cloudy-colored bottles from small producers that I am both familiar and unfamiliar with. I was greeted and helped by the owners, Pascal and Daneen Lewis, an entrepreneurial couple who have been gracing the community since 2017 with their impressive selection. Yes, I came in for the wine. But what I found instead was a cool slice of the wine industry where both consumer and wine shop owner were people of color. (Trust me… this is not something you see often.)
And thus, a plan was hatched: I wanted to explore a collection of NYC’s coolest Black-owned bottle shops, with a focus on the kinds of wine that I really love to drink (these tend to be “natural”, minimal intervention, you know the deal). Inclusivity is an important piece to any supply chain, especially with a population that has been historically under-represented in wine. Based on recent census data, over two-thirds of NYC residents are BIPOC. Having the wine shop owner as a part of their community and serving their neighbors is an important fabric that must be celebrated.
So, get ready to drink some excitingly delicious wines with me. Here is a guide to New York City’s Black-owned wine shops.
Harlem Wine Gallery
It’s only fitting that we start with the shop that led me to write this article. Impressively, it’s the only shop that I will feature in Manhattan! (Shoot, it’s the only wine shop that I will feature outside of Brooklyn…)
Harlem Wine Gallery has been around for the last four-and-a-half years, founded by Pascal and Daneen Lewis. They’ve lived in Harlem for over 30 years and wanted to open a place that could showcase small production wines with a focus on community health. Women and black winemakers are a huge focus. They told me they have the largest collection of Black-winemaker wines in NYC and even had a whole table dedicated to women-made wines! They also have a huge back room that is perfect for tastings and private events, whenever that will resume. (Fingers crossed, soon.)
While at Harlem Wine Gallery I picked up a fun 100% Loureiro from Vinho Verde, Portugal called Bojo Do Luar Doralice 2020. Get this! Fermentation is done in concrete and stainless steel, and is macerated with chestnut flowers, making for a refreshing and light, easy to drink wine with notes of tropical fruit, key lime, and a faint flavor of apple juice.
Bed-Vyne Wine & Spirits
Bed-Vyne founder Michael Brooks has created is a beautiful expression of what a bottle shop can be. Inclusive and customer-oriented, instead of segmenting wines based on region or grape Brooks uses tasting notes—like bold, crisp, and fruity—as a way to help the customer easily navigate to a wine they will more likely enjoy. In the middle of the shop are three kiosks: natural wines, wines under $20, and wines that are privately labeled under the Bed-Vyne brand to create a greater budget-friendly option. The shop has been open for five years now, and has grown to include a cocktail bar down the street and a beer and wine bar across the street. (I’d be remiss not to include that the spirits selection at the bottle shop is top notch!)
We enjoyed a 2020 Zweigelt “Kieselstein” from Claus Preisinger of Austria, and wow. Fans of these wines will know what I mean: grab all of the blackberries and blueberries you have, throw in some fresh sage and pepper, and we're ready to party. We also tried the 2019 Forti del Vento Maia Cortese, a light orange wine with notes of floral honey, begging for an evening of Brooklyn pizza outside.
With a fun and knowledgable staff and a boutique atmosphere, Liquid Assets is owned by Nigel Frankson and Natasha Flores, two staples of the Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn. Right as I entered the shop, I was greeted with friendly smiles and the beautifully placed poster of Biggie’s face. (We are in Bed-Stuy, after all.) The wide selection of wines utilizes a fun sticker system that helps identify which wines are biodynamic, organic, natural, pet nat, or skin-contact white. (Also, shoutout to Natasha’s husband, Dan Flores, who owns his own wine shop called Bedford Nostrand Wines.)
Are you ready to hang out on your fire escape or stoop? The wine that needs to accompany you on a humid day is the 2020 Gruner Veltliner Christina from Austria. The staff at Liquid Assets described the hazy pale color as having wine crystals, which is my favorite descriptor of 2021! This is fresh and fun, with notes of guava, peach, and lychee. You can enjoy this anyway you want, but I recommend having it by itself on a hot day outdoors with friends. Stoop not required.
This is my new local wine shop, so heads up to the team at Good Wine, I plan on stopping by often. Owned by Heather Johnston, this shop is fun and whimsical, with elephant paintings on the wall and wine bottles featured in bird cages. (If you know my mom, this is something she would do.) Good Wine is working on collaborating with their neighbors in the future to offer more tastings and events, so definitely follow them on social media and be on the lokoout.
The team at Good Wine told me I had to grab the 2020 Claus Preisinger Puszta Libre Gekühlt Servieren, a chilled red blend of Zweigelt and St. Laurent. Juicy, fresh, effervescent, this wine is another perfect wine for the hot days of summer.
I absolutely loved my experience at Wine-O! Owner Jannette Young is funny, warm, and an expert at creating a welcoming and neighborly environment. I witnessed a few customer engagements where it seemed like two old friends were catching up. The selection is fun and features quite a few Greek wines that I haven’t seen a lot of around Brooklyn.
Speaking of Greek wines, I was specifically asked by my wife to pick up a bottle of rose from here. Well, luckily the staff at Wine-o steered me in the right direction, towards the 2020 Garalis Roseus Muscat of Alexandria from the island of Lemnos. If you have a chance to look at this bottle in person, the color alone will excite you, and in the glass it's complex with notes of meyer lemon, peach, and apricot. The floral and minerality of this wine are a welcome surprise.
Akaash Saini is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. This is Akaash Saini's first feature for Sprudge Media Network.