Put down that martini glass. New York, the capital of cocktails, is throwing itself into a grape new love affair. A new breed of wine bar has sprung up across the city, and while each outlet has its own style – from dimly-lit dives to mid-town elegance – these outlets share a commitment to sourcing wines from around the world, with an emphasis on low-intervention wine. So while you will find plenty of French labels – New Yorkers love a classic, after all – you can also expect to encounter wines from as far afield as Greece and Georgia. The rotating wine lists mean there is always something new to discover, and if you are in the mood to celebrate there are plenty of opportunities to blow the budget, including some magnificent magnum selections. We'll drink to that.
FOUR HORSEMEN, BROOKLYN
The Four Horsemen is the wine bar you would love to have just around the corner from your place. The walls are hessian-covered, the staff are helpful without being intimidating – and no, there's no sommelier in charge. "That's the opposite of what we do here," says partner Randy Moon.
That doesn't mean they don't take their wine seriously, however. As with many New York wine bars, there is a heavy emphasis on French wines, but the list also includes drops from Slovakia and Slovenia all the way to the Barossa Valley, represented by a selection of wines from Seppeltsfield's Tom Shobbrook. Following staff recommendations, we try a magnificent crisp sparkling wine from young Austrian winemaker, Christoph Hoch, and some mellow Italian reds from Maria Ernesta Berucci.
Whatever you choose to drink, leave room for some of the bar's superb small plates. Chef Nick Curtola specialises in unexpected combinations, such as a zingy citrus salad teamed with the slight sourness of ricotta salata, or a beef tartare amped up with sesame and chili oil.
ALDO SOHM, MIDTOWN
I'm a bit surprised to find that the by-the-glass section of Aldo Sohm's wine bar offers several choices at about $US12. After all, this sophisticated bar – the sister property to one of New York's most acclaimed restaurants, Le Bernardin – is overseen by none other than Le Bernardin's revered wine director, the eponymous Aldo Sohm.
You might expect a glass of wine here to cost closer to $US60, and if that is what you are after, go right ahead and order the Chateau La Lagune Haut-Medoc Bordeaux 2000. But there are also interesting choices that will cost you a lot less: everything from an assyrtiko from Santorini to a cabernet franc from nearby Long Island and an elegantly rounded Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses VV from Spain. Whatever you order will be served in the most elegant glasses in town: handmade Zalto glasses, distinguished by their elongated stems and lipless rims.
Yes, it's a Michelin-starred restaurant, but Rebelle also has a reputation of a great place to get a drink. "Around half our sales are wine," admits Rebelle's sommelier, Kim Prokoshyn. Which makes sense when you compare the compact menu with the expansive wine list, which includes a dizzying 1800 different bottles. French and American wines are featured exclusively: there are 10 pages of French chardonnays alone.
That doesn't mean the list is predictable, however. Skip past the Californian cabernets and you will find more unusual drops, including a selection of wines from the Finger Lakes region of New York. "Bellwether, Nathan Kendall and Element are making some really exciting wines there," Prokoshyn says.
If you have something to celebrate, you may want to browse the eight pages of magnums, or choose from four different vintages from the revered Chateau Lafite, starting at $US1085 for a 1978 vintage. Hot tip: book in for brunch, when every bottle is half price.
TEN BELLS, LOWER EAST SIDE
At Ten Bells, it's all about the mood. This pocket-sized, dimly-lit bar is the place for tete-a-tetes rather than large groups. There is just enough light to make out the old-school horseshoe-shaped bar and the pressed tin ceiling; to read the wine list, however, you may need to pull over an extra tea light or two.
Ten Bells takes an adventurous approach to wine. Sure, you will find stand-bys such as Cote du Rhones and riojas on the list, but this is the place to try something you've never heard of. Seeing my interest in an orange wine from Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the US state) made with kisi grapes, the server offers it my taste; when I find it a trifle lacklustre, he recommends an Alsatian wine instead, a blend of gewurztraminer and pinot gris, which is much more my speed.
An added bonus for oyster lovers: between 5pm and 7pm, oysters are just $US1 each.
WILDAIR, LOWER EAST SIDE
So, what will it be tonight: white, red, rose or petnat? If the last offering leaves you a bit bewildered, you're not the only one. Petnat – short for petillant-naturel – is a type of sparkling wine. Whether you find the category label a charming talking point or ever so slightly pretentious is probably an indication of how you will feel about Wildair.
Certainly there is no lack of fans: when we show up on Monday night, all the seats at the communal tables are taken. When we eventually score a seat, we discover a wine list filled with tempting options: Toby Bainbridge's Cuvee La Danseuse is a standout among the petnats.
If you're feeling peckish, the kitchen of Wildair's sister restaurant, Contra, supplies a range of small plates. The littleneck clams with XO sauce lack punch, but the crispy grain salad with hearts of palm and tarragon and the unctuous potato dauphin with uni are better options.
Located in the Financial District, the Millenium Hilton offers easy access to 10 different subway lines, and has views across both rivers. Rates start from $US199 for a deluxe room. hilton.com
Ute Junker travelled courtesy of Broadway Inbound and Millenium Hilton.