Victoria Levin's wine list at relaxed Upper West Side winebar The Tangled Vine reads like a yearbook of old, cherished friends: from a "joyous" and "funky" gavi to a lambrusco "from a tiny vineyard run by the kindest people."
A self-taught oenophile, Levin lives to take her patrons on what she calls the "beautiful journey of discovery" that is finding new wines, and to make her bar a safe (and reasonably-priced) place to explore. "It has surpassed what I ever thought it could be," she tells us. "The fact that I have people coming in asking for pinot grigio and having left with an indigenous grape from the tiniest little region of the Loire valley -- I couldn't be happier. And they come back!"
Here are Levin's tips for finding your new favorite grape.
"A lot of retail shops do tastings at least once a week. They're free, you can go in, there's someone knowledgeable there, you can try two wines. Done. And you've spent no money."
"Go out with friends and get different wines, and have the bartender split it into half-glasses of both. You're still paying for two glasses, but you're getting to split them. Or if it's a bother, order a glass of each and ask for two empty glasses.
"I think writing things down is huge, and they sell really great wine journals. They're not going to be about how many months in oak or residual sugars, it's going to say: What do you smell? What do you taste? What are the pure facts about this wine? What do you like about it, what do you not? It can be fun also, if you're doing it with friends, to compare notes."
"There are a lot of great wine bars and restaurants where the staff are dying to recommend and answer questions. And if they don't have the answer, they should be able to get you someone that does. There's always someone on site who can answer a question for you."
"Look, wine is booze. Let's not forget, wine should be fun, it shouldn't be that serious. You're in a bar. You're in a setting where you're there to eat and drink and laugh and enjoy your time."
If you go
The Tangled Vine
434 Amsterdam Ave.