Wine opinion: New York now rivals Hong Kong for daily tasting options

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 2:36pm

New York is probably the only city on earth that rivals Hong Kong for the sheer number of wine-tasting options available each day. In a global market where producers follow, sheep-like, the hot consumption spots, all eyes have been on China for the past five years.

But America is once more on the upward trajectory, overtaking France and Italy as the country that gets through the most bottles per year, with 324 million cases, an increase of 7 per cent over the past five years. China was at 159 million cases by the start of 2012.

The two cites also share an ability to assimilate an array of cultures. "I remember coming to New York 28 years ago and the markets feeling so authentic," chef Yang Huang, originally from Guangdong, tells me. Yang's menu at Buddakan is easily my favourite spot in the city for dim sum. Yang likes to head to Chinatown and the Golden Unicorn for dim sum or Ping Seafood for soft-shell crab on his days off.

As with many chefs, wine works best for Huang when it magnifies food flavours. "Where I come from in Guangdong, the speciality is black bean and dry orange peel, and precision with cooking styles is all important," he says.

"Wines must not swamp the food, so whites tend to be the best matches for our dishes. The combination of minerality, acidity and milder alcohol work well in food pairings. My passion is seafood, so I find myself drawn to Alsace dry and off-dry rieslings."

You are certainly not going to go short of wine and food advice in New York, and Huang is part of a wave of young chefs and sommeliers who are reinvigorating the wine scene for European producers. It was a contrast to when I visited New York with a group of Bordeaux wine producers a few years ago. The financial crisis was still in full grip, and the major player who had been importing Bordeaux wines into the city pulled out the year before, leaving a vacuum that no one was sure how to fill.

The smart producers stayed - and the rest are working out fresh and interesting ways to reach consumers, launching events such as the Bordeaux BurdiGala festival last February, a one-day food and wine glut that is hoping to rival La Paulée's week-long celebration of all things Burgundy.

But even the best producers and the biggest events can get swamped by the sheer weight of city life, and you need to go big to stand out. I have returned from the sixth New York City Food & Wine Festival. It attracted 55,000 visitors, who were offered an array of tastings, master classes and chef's table events in venues around Hell's Kitchen, a criss-cross of buzzy, dirty roads just south of Central Park.

This is a festival with the emphasis on access - some of the best events are when you can get behind the scenes, for round-table discussions with luminaries such as food critic Ruth Reichl, chef Tom Colicchio and winemaker Sacha Lichine.

Access is also key to Laura Maniec, of Union Square wine bar Corkbuzz, who in 2009 became the world's youngest master sommelier. We chat over a plate of cured Surrayano ham ("a play on Serrano made in Surry, Virginia") and a 1995 Barbaresco, in her cosy bar, restaurant and wine school.

"I like the smokiness of the meat with the tar and earth flavours of the nebbiolo grape and how the tannins are matched with the right amount of fat and marbling," she says.

Maniec's wine journey is inseparable from her life in New York. Growing up in Brooklyn, she spent Sunday lunches groaning with food at her Italian grandmother's in the suburb of Queens.

"I don't come from a winemaking family, but we did enjoy eating, and drinking wine. Those family dinners were a huge part of why I am a restaurateur," she says.

Her first steps in wine appreciation came through taking an 18-week course at Windows on the World in the World Trade Centre in 2001. Her last class was on September 10; the next day everything changed and she felt even more strongly anchored both to New York and to wine.

"Wine incorporates all of my passions; culture, language, travel, history, geography and gastronomy. I wanted to share them through Corkbuzz. So how could I say, after you've tried a sample of Barolo in class, 'Here's your coat, now leave'. Better to offer you a bowl of pasta with an actual glass of Barolo."

Next year's New York City Food & Wine Festival runs from October 9 to 12