Intoxicating Wine and Liquor Stores

On a foray into Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Saturday with Mike, my serious grapehead brother, I dropped into wine and spirits shop LeNell’s (416 Van Brunt Street, 877-NO-SNOBS). Mike knows a lot about wine, and he’s spent more than 25 years unsuccessfully trying to get me interested in the stuff. So when I told him that LeNell’s was a really cool place, he was skeptical. After all, he knows how little I know about wine. Then Mike spotted half-bottles of Barolos (Roagna's La Rocca e La Pira) at $27, which he said was an excellent price. One conversation with LeNell, the gracious, unpretentious owner, and he is now a serious devotee of the shop. Here is serious eater and brother Mike’s take on LeNell’s. —Ed Levine

20070108roagna.jpgThe wines I bought were two different years of an excellent Barolo (1996–97). The '97s are the "lesser" wine, but drinking better now, while the 96's (the "bigger and more complex" vintage) need more time. The very competent and pleasant owner-shopkeeper pointed this out. They were about $25 for the half-bottles of '97 and about $26.50 or $27 for the halves of '06. It's unusual to find such really good wine in halves, a very convenient size for two people who want two modest glasses of wine apiece for a dinner and don't want to leave any over or get unnecessarily tanked (whether out of prudence or because you are saving yourselves for other alcoholic entertainment the same evening.) The shop in general was small but "well-edited" with many excellent wines, and the proprietor was exceptionally willing to engage with customers to make recommendations that seemed to me very sound.

I had never heard of the Champagne I bought, which is positioned as one of the many grower-made (as opposed to "Grand Marques" like Moët or Roederer or most of the others you've heard of—they even have their own association of the elite, which are large-scale "manufacturers"—they would hate that characterization—some superbly good). The grower Champagnes are produced by the people who own the land and grow the grapes, which would otherwise be sold to the Grand (and not so grand) large producers. The grower can do this for one or both of two reasons: Now that they are becoming fashionable, he can make and sell the wine for a much bigger profit than he gets by selling the grapes to, say, Moët; second, if he is really passionate and skillful, he can produce a Champagne that reflects the area the grape was grown in and his own ways of winemaking, rather than turn over control to a firm that blends wines for a consistent "house" style not related to what the French call "terroir" (roughly, location and climate).

This Champagne was Roger Pouillon, from Mareuil sur Ay, and cost about $22 a half-bottle. (prices are approximate; I didn't save the receipts). It is a blend from several different subregions of Champagne, and it is not clear whether the firm grows all its own wine. Perhaps it is a smaller version of a Grand Marque (a petit Marque?). I tried it last night, and it was excellent, reflecting very well the full-bodied, deep style of the Pinot Noir grapes grown and wines made around Ay, in the Marne valley facing Epernay, one of the two centers of Grand Marque production. I tasted hints of the Chardonnay from Mesnil sur Oger, home of the most complex Grand Chardonnays. It is a mixture of Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and more ordinary wines. It was a credit to the store that they had found it and were carrying it.

Serious Eats hopes that LeNell’s is part of a trend toward wine shops owned by passionate, discerning, and welcoming wine lovers. One favorable sign: LeNell’s was included in an April 2004 GQ story, "The 50 Best Wine Stores in America" [read PDF article]

Serious eaters want to know: Is there a wine shop like LeNell’s where you live?

PLACES REFERENCED IN THIS ENTRY
LeNell's Ltd.
Address: 416 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn NY 11231 [Red Hook; map]
Phone: 718-360-0838 (local), 877-NO-SNOBS (toll-free)
Website: lenells.com

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