Monthly Archives: March 2013

An Afternoon with West Village Wine Retailer Jean-Luc Le Dû

If you missed my interview with Jean-Luc Le Dû, here is your second chance…

After winemakers, the most valuable people in the wine business today are passionate retailers. Sommeliers, wine critics, importers and anyone else involved in the world of wine — they’re all important, just not as much. Why? Retailers interact face-to-face with hundreds of thirsty consumers, sometimes on a weekly basis, and thus have the best opportunity to build trust, educate, and inspire people to be curious and drink more adventurously.

Note the distinction between retailer and passionate retailer. The city has loads of drab wine and liquor stores hawking booze to alkies with the same exuberance the trash men have for tossing our garbage into their trucks — they don’t care what it is as long as they move it. The good ones, though, are invaluable to the industry and consumers alike because their fervor for wine is as contagious as singing in a Southern Baptist Church. Last week, we caught up with one of those good guys — Jean-Luc Le Dû.

Jean-Luc is the owner of Le Dû’s Wines, a wine and spirits store in the West Village. Originally from Gourin, France, he currently lives downtown in Battery Park. Prior to opening his retail shop in 2005, Jean-Luc spent ten years as chief sommelier at Daniel, so he knows his wine. We talked recently before one of his outstanding weekly in-store tastings.

What was your first memorable wine experience?
In 1987, I was invited to my aunt and uncle’s house in Queens for Thanksgiving dinner. I was 22, knew nothing about wine and brought a very cheap négociant (a wine merchant who buys, bottles and sells must or wine from an outside source, under their own label) bottling of Saint-Émilion. The gentleman sitting next to me, the father of my cousin’s girlfriend, brought a bottle of 1964 Cheval Blanc. I commented to him, “Oh, this is great, we brought wines from the same village–we have good taste!” The guy was very nice about it and said, “Actually, you are right–it’s a different estate, but the same village.” Then I tasted his wine and I was blown away. The following week I decided I would find a bottle because I had never tasted something like that before and wanted to do so again, but the one I found was $250 and way above my pay range. After that experience, I decided to devote $100 a week to my wine education by visiting wine shops and trying new bottles.

What was your first job in the wine business?
I was the head captain at Bouley for 3 years, but I had wanted to leave and work as a sommelier. Right after Bouley, I went to One if by Land, Two if by Sea, the only opportunity that presented itself at the time. It was 1994, and there really weren’t a lot of sommeliers in New York. There were maybe three or four. I didn’t stay there very long, but I got my first chance to compose a wine list and to turn people on to wine, so that was very exciting, because that was where I really wanted to go with my career. I went to Daniel right after that.

What is the role of a sommelier today: teach, guide or take orders from the customer?
The role of the sommelier on the floor is to first be a wine waiter. The sommelier is there to take your wine order and, depending on the level of decorum in the restaurant, maybe taste it to make sure it’s good or smell it to see if it’s corked. That is their first role. Everything else is extra. A sommelier should really be a psychologist at the table. He or she is there to gauge the customer, and understand if it’s a couple on a day when they don’t want to be bothered and just want two glasses of wine, or understand if someone is passionate about wine and is really eager to chat. You really have to read your customers to see how much involvement they want from you at the table. Not everybody’s looking for a transcendental experience from the sommelier.

How did you decide to make the transition to retail? 
I had been at Daniel for ten years, and it was a wonderful experience, but I wanted to do other things. The West Village is one of the most vibrant places in the city, and I wanted to be involved in the fabric of it. I felt if we provided a great product and great service, we would be able to attract great customers.

What are the pros and cons of the retail biz?
Right now is an amazing time to be in retail. Something unfortunate happened in the mid-’90s and we are finally getting out of it — the era of the wine critic. For a while it was hard to sell a wine if it hadn’t been stamped with approval by Robert Parker, or others; but now you see customers are getting much more confident. In the last year or two, more and more people are listening to the writing we do independently at our shop. We write emails that reflect our personal passion, and I think people are more interested in that point of view rather than that of a wine critic.

Have New Yorkers’ wine preferences changed over the last few years?
People drink less and less Bordeaux. Bordeaux was the main wine region sold in shops for a long time, but they have priced themselves out of the market; it’s too bad, because there are some delicious wines made there. However, there is really a spirit of adventure in the New York consumer that is very exciting given all the regions around the world worth exploring. Take Chile and Argentina–they were on shelves ten years ago because they were inexpensive, but are today making many delicious wines. And in France, there are areas like the Jura that have been seeing a lot of interest in the last two or three years. And there has never been a better time to drink American wines than today.

Are there any wines you refuse to carry?
[laughs] Ummm, no. Why don’t I tell you about the wines we do carry. We work with independent, artisanal wineries and domaines from around the world that are family or privately owned, that work organically, biodynamically or as close to as possible as they can. We work with wineries that don’t use GMOs and are passionate about the place that they are from and that come from real terroir.

What happened to the Australian wine market?
It was really a segment of the Australian wine industry that screwed it up for everybody. Yellowtail and those huge brands that were created played on margins and currency — that’s how they made money — and the second the currency wasn’t in their favor, the whole thing fell apart. All of a sudden they needed to sell a billion gallons of crap to make money. And consequently, everything from Australia was viewed as bad. Yet there are a lot of old vines and very passionate, dedicated winemakers that make great stuff; little by little we are seeing those wines trickle back into the market.

Lauren Mowery

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? 
Beaujolais. No, the Gamay grape. Don’t say Beaujolais in this interview, it’s like a dirty word. If you say that name, people will think of a headache-inducing rush of a wine that’s really not pleasant and is a hyper-fruity, banana-smelling concoction. But the wines from the Cru of Beaujolais like Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, and Fleurie are some of the most satisfying, quenching, lively wines in the world. If you told me I had to drink the same wine, from the same region, night after night, I would say Beaujolais. They are great when they are young, great when they are old; they are just pretty. People are now discovering they are cellar-worthy at the higher end.

Which wine region should consumers explore for good value and quality?
Sicily. It is really an up-and-coming region that has a long history — I think it was the first place vines were planted in Italy. This is an area that is warm, but has a very long growing season; there is very old terrain, many unique soils, and a series of hills and mountains on which grapes can be grown at high elevations. What’s being done in the Etna D.O.C. is fantastic–they are growing on black rock and old lava formations. For me, they are some of the most exciting wines of Europe. And a good Negroamaro costs as little as $12 or $13. Really great stuff for the money.

What do you drink when relaxing at home?
I generally like simple wines at home. Simple foods require simple wines. But I also love Spanish Riojas. I am a huge fan of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. There is good Pinot Gris being made in Oregon. Also, aged German Rieslings are one of the great beauties of this world, and yet they aren’t that expensive.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?
Sicily. There are not many vineyards in the world that have such a dramatic setting, sitting up to 2700 feet on black lava rock with very old vines. Then you can visit some of the most beautiful archaeological sites in Europe, and hit the beaches on the Tyrrhenian Sea. I think this would be the perfect wine region to spend time in, and I would love to make it my next trip.

Le Dû’s Wines, 600 Washington St., 212-924-6999


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Beauty and the Bottle

The bottling line at Cantine Ferrari in Trentino, Italy.

Cantine Ferrari Bottling Line 2

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Sip, Slurp and Save lives on March 22nd @ City Winery with Stark Wines

Looking to do good while drinking wine? Join me at this event while tickets are still available!

Wine & Oyster Pairing

Friday, March 22 @ 6:00PM

Tickets are $75/person

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Join City Winery on World Water Day, to enjoy Stark Wine, slurp North Atlantic oysters (and eat other tasty appetizers), and help bring clean drinking water to people in some of the world’s poorest communities through WaterAid.

WaterAid,, is a leading international organization that helps the world’s poorest communities gain access to safe water and sanitation. Nearly 800 million people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. WaterAid transforms lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in 27 countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific Region and Central America. To date, WaterAid has helped 17.5 million people gain access to clean water.

Stark Wine,, is a Sonoma-based winery with a mission to make delicious wines and give back. Through a partnership with WaterAid, Stark Wine has helped give clean water for life to over 200 people in 2012. The goal is to double the number of people they help in 2013.

Throughout March, Chelsea Wine Vault will donate $1 to WaterAid for every bottle of Stark Wine, Stark Thirst or Stark Wild sold. Look for CWV’s “1 Bottle = $1 For WaterAid” when wine shopping online at or in-store at 75 9th Avenue at 16th Street inside The Chelsea Market.

Brooklyn Oyster Party are the people to know for oysters in the NYC area. BOP’s speciality is sourcing local and sustainable oysters from the North Atlantic coast. From sourcing, to shucking, even clean-up, check out


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Get Your Tickets to NY Drinks NY

And Support the Wineries in our Backyard

NY Drinks NY: March 2013
Monday March 18, 2013
Grand Tasting
Featuring more than 40 New York wineries from the Finger LakesLong Island,Hudson River RegionNiagara EscarpmentLake Erie and Thousand Islands.
An all-New York selection of cheeses, charcuterie and hors d’oeuvres will be provided by the New York Wine & Culinary Center.
Monday, March 18
12 – 4 pm Trade
6 – 8 pm Consumer
Astor Center
399 Lafayette Street (at E 4th Street)
Public admission:
$35 tickets ($25 before January 15) are limited
and can be purchased below or here.
Trade and Media RSVP »

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Gotham Project Wines on Tap @ Michael Skurnik Tasting

Gotham Project Tap Wines

Gotham Project’s 2013 Wines on Tap

A few months back, I addressed the growing number of wines-on-tap in restaurants around New York City. The problem with the trend was that many of the wines stunk–particularly the ones sourced abroad–and they weren’t priced like tap wines! I thought the savings were to be passed down to consumers? At least that is one argument being made for the use of kegged wines, yet NYC restaurants still charge a ridiculous $9-$14 a glass for not very good wine.

In my opinion, the first goal of a wine-on-tap program should be a focus on high-quality, local wines in a sustainable package, as the Europeans have done for thousands of years. The trattorias of Chianti certainly aren’t serving up Côtes du Rhône alongside a plate of pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale. Not only was it natural due to isolation and travel cost considerations to develop a culture of eating and drinking locally, but they had great raw ingredients and made good wine, so why go elsewhere?

Nowadays, food and wine are shipped from every corner of the globe, overnight. The energy costs are high, but consumers are curious and demand both local and international options. Thus, if they are going to drink Austrian wines anyway, why shouldn’t they also be served-up in “green” packaging? Foremost in sourcing international wines for kegs is the Gotham Project. Although their first, flagship wine was a Riesling from the Finger Lakes, they quickly began adding overseas options to their line-up. Unfortunately, I found those wines awful–a Moschofilero from Greece and Garnacha from Spain, undrinkable and seriously overpriced. Perhaps maintaining their position as industry leader was more important than the wines themselves?

Yesterday I attended Michael Skurnik’s Grand Portfolio Tasting. The first booth I ran into was the Gotham Project, so I started there to see if they might change my mind about their wines. The first pour was a Grüner Veltliner from Weinviertel, Austria. The wine crackled and popped from bright acidity and a little CO2 spritz, showing green apple and flinty minerality. For the right price, I would certainly order this in a big carafe on a hot afternoon with a group of friends. The next two wines were NY State: Empire Builder White and 2012 Riesling.  The Empire Builder is a Chard/Riesling blend from the Finger Lakes, perfectly serviceable, although not as immediately satisfying as the Grüner. Their latest version of Riesling from 2012 is supposedly a lot sweeter, although the acidity kept the sugar in balance and thus I found it more appealing than past incarnations that lacked backbone.

Next up were the reds. First, we tasted a rosé called Schnieder & Bieler made from Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. Not sure what was going on with that wine–the hue reminded me of a rusty screw. The wine offered barely discernible berry notes, although it was rather crisp. It wasn’t terrible, but lacked identity. We moved on to the El Rede Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The pleasantly fruity wine was overwhelmed by a bitter finish. So far, not a great start to the group. Unfortunately, before we got to try the Empire Builder Red, Sangiovese and Cab Sauv, the tap pooped out.

My conclusion, having tasted half the wines, is that the whites were promising. The grüner in particular. Hopefully Gotham Project found reds that can compete, and will also encourage restaurant partners to sell them at competitive prices. Otherwise, why would consumers buy an average wine on tap without the benefit of the savings, given there are plenty of great by-the-glass options in this city that come from bottles.  Either find better wines or sell them for less!

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