One hot summer day, I took home a bottle of Txomin Etxaniz txakoli from my favorite Fort Greene wine shop. It was strange, zingy and delicious, and I vowed to visit Txakoli’s origins in Spain’s Basque country if I ever had the chance.
On the road from Madrid to San Sebastian the following spring, my girlfriend and I took a short detour to the tiny fishing village of Getaria. We drove up a steep hill terraced in vines and knocked on the door at Txomin Etxaniz, half expecting to be chased out of the driveway.
Instead, we were met by the winemaker himself, who graciously showed us around his estate. Back at the winery, overlooking sweeping views of the Atlantic, the three of us drank a bottle of cold Txakoli and ate fresh anchovies that had been caught by the winemaker’s sons and packed with local olive oil in a Tupperware. We left with restaurant recommendations, some funny Getaria gossip, and a vivid link to a place, a time and a wine that has yet to fade.
For wine lovers and wanderlusters, Brooklyn’s growing number of wine shops can be a great compass for travel, pointing toward places with true personality, where you can still immerse yourself in the profound connections a wine has with its origins.
Below are a handful of memorable journeys that begin in a bottle, courtesy of the people behind some of Brooklyn’s best wine stores — all who encourage their customers to ask about intriguing people and places to visit in wine country.
Brooklyn Wine Exchange
138 Court St, Cobble Hill
Australia may be best known for high-octane reds from scorching regions like the Barossa Valley. But Brooklyn Wine Exchange buyer Tim Farrell’s heart lies in the lush Riesling vineyards of the Eden Valley.
“Watching a cooling rain fall over the thatched roof houses and undulating hillside vines, you just soak up the essence of the place,” he says. “The Eden has this peace, this power, and it’s all there in the beautiful balance and refreshing acidity of its Rieslings.”
Then there’s the Greek Island of Santorini. “How do you beat sitting by the blue Aegean eating grilled octopus and drinking a crisp, minerally Assyrtiko that tastes a little bit of seaspray?” says Tim.
153 Franklin Street, Greenpoint
Dandelion’s owner, Lily Peachin, recently visited the tiny Spanish town of Quintanamanvirgo and felt the bold reds of Ribera del Duero come alive over a bonfire built from the chunky, twisted cuttings of 70-100 year-old vines.
“When the fire burnt down to the embers, we grilled baby lamb chops ate them with copious amounts of rustic, spicy Tempranillo — it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.” (http://www.bodegastorremoron.com).
A bottle of Port led Manager Meg McNeill to the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, where she shared a homemade lunch of potato and beef stew, fresh bread and local cheeses with winemaker João Roseira and his vineyard workers on a chilly, overcast afternoon.
“The Ruby Port’s warm blackberry, brambly flavors were so comforting and delicious with the tangy cheeses,” says Meg. “Some people think Port is an antiquated desert wine, but for me it’s now fresh and evocative.
Gnarly Vines Wine & Spirits
350 Myrtle Avenue, Fort Greene
Gnarly Vines’ owner Brian Robinson remembers driving with winemaker Patrick Baudouin through Baudouin’s Loire Valley vineyard in Couteaux de Layon, when Baudouin stopped the car and jumped out to inspect a pear tree that wasn’t bearing fruit, unlike previous years.
“At the time, I was just starting out in the wine auction business, and I asked him very seriously if this was a sign for the coming vintage,” says Robinson, laughing. “He looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘No, I just like the fruit!’ It really hit me then that wine shouldn’t be an obsession — something you dissect until the meaning is gone. It’s something to love and enjoy.”
237 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene
At Heritage Wines (also shown in the two photos above) manager Giancarlo Luiggi wants more people who visit Tuscany to hop a boat to the island of Elba, where Lorenzo Signorini vinifies a still, dry Moscato that virtually reflects the crystalline waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
“It’s this incredibly light and ethereal Moscato with a touch of salinity — it absolutely beckons you to the little piece of paradise where it was made,” says Giancarlo.
199 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg
The co-founder of restaurant ICI in Fort Greene, Laurent Saillard, recently returned to France and is making a Gamay called “La Pause” that Uva buyer Lauren Gitlin says truly conjures the pastoral soul of the Loire Valley.
“It’s this funky, fresh wine that’s made for drinking outside at a farmhouse in the Touraine, sitting at a long table with charcuterie and fresh veggies. It’s pure delight,” says Lauren.
Photo credit: Valery Rizzo at Heritage Wines