The last couple of weeks have brought about a lot of change in almost every area of my life, and it’s made me realize just how hesitant I was to get out of my "comfort" zone before. New Yorkers have a particularly tough time getting out of their comfort zone, too, I think. In a city so vast and so diverse, we get stuck in the day to day and stick to the familiar. Maybe it’s a security measure in what can sometimes feel like a large and unfriendly place.
You go to the same corner coffee shop despite the fact that they never get your order right. The same happy hour spots though there are literally dozens to choose from in any four-block radius in the city, the same nail salon even though you swear their polish never lasts. The same "go-to" wine bar for your Match.com date this week — the list goes on and on…
Well, the same could go for where you shop for anything, really. I had the pleasure recently of stopping by the fairly new Harlem Wine Gallery uptown. I usually stick to my favorite spots in FiDi, though every major train line stops down here so I have no excuse. My initial reaction when I enter is the visually pleasing layout and décor: simple, easy, artistic. You see, it’s not just a wine shop. It is actually a wine "gallery" focusing both on wine and art. Why didn’t anyone think of this combo before?
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The wines are not only grouped by region but also by cuisine — genius! The staff is very knowledgeable and happy to help making even a novice’s attempt to buy wine simple and easy. Wine shopping can be an intimidating thing if you don’t know what you’re looking for and at Harlem Wine Gallery, you will welcome the guidance. There is a sense of community in the store, which is nice. You feel like it’s more than just "business." It is a shared experience that owner Ken Forte is offering not only the neighborhood locals, but New Yorkers in general who would be wise to stop by and check it out.
They offer weekly tastings and every month a different local artist’s work is featured throughout the space that patrons can purchase in addition to their wine. When I attended, Juan Carlos Pinta was the featured artist. I was blown away by his take on the Mona Lisa — all done using metro cards. I didn’t quite see her eyes follow me through the store, but I swear she looked better than the one hanging in the Louvre.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Ken (a fellow SJU grad) who gave me a better understanding of the driving force behind the opening of Harlem Wine Gallery. He describes the neighborhood in one word: reawakening. When asked what the connection is between good wine and good art he says, "It takes time to make both," and that art is "a nice platform." And he’s correct on both. Suddenly, I am feeling that there is a lot more to this place than simply selling wine. Ken is sharing knowledge about wine, appreciation for good art, a love for both, and a commitment to the neighborhood to provide quality wines.
I asked Forte to share his most recent great "wine find" and he did not disappoint. So this week, I am drinking an El Porvenir Amauta 2006 Syrah from Argentina. This was a surprising treat for me, having been to Argentina but never tried its Syrah, I’ve been committed to Malbec and Torrontés ever since. Again, staying inside my comfort zone.
I pour a glassful and beautiful ruby red and purple tones run down my glass. On the nose, I am inundated with strong notes of red and dark fruit, berries, and jam. The notes of toast are obvious as a result of this 100 percent Syrah being aged in French and American oak. A second sniff gives me the slightest hint of wet leather. Made high up in the Cafayate Valley in Salta, Argentina, this wine is powerful and intense but smooth on the palette. The high altitude is reflected in the wine’s structure, high acidity and higher alcohol content (14.5 percent). You’ll need something hearty to go along with it. There is a nice medium to long finish with notes of spice and black pepper, as well. This would pair very nicely with some authentic Argentinian "parillada" — a mix of grilled and barbecued meats. I am especially eager to try this with some chorizo to bring out its spice even more.
Ken was right, the value is incredible. as this beautifully structured and balanced wine drinks more like a $40 bottle yet at around $25, is a definite steal. No reason to feel guilty about opening this up with your basic backyard barbecue tonight. Or impress some friends and bring this by on the weekend rather than the same old Pinot Grigio you show up with every time because you bought a case on sale on July 4. Remember, this is all about getting outside your comfort zone.
Harlem Wine Gallery
752A St. Nicholas Avenue at 148th Street
New York, NY 10031