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ABC Kitchen: Finding Symbolism in Eco-land

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Welcome to Eater's column, Decanted, in which WineChap's Talia Baiocchi guides us through the treacherous world of New York wine lists. Today: ABC Kitchen.


From the menus to bread baskets to the eco ballpoint pens—and perhaps even to the servers themselves—everything at ABC Kitchen is some variation of biodegradable, recyclable corn-based paper-mâché (not quite, but whatever). The food is sustainable, organic, and local whenever possible. And the wine list? Yes, you guessed it: 90 percent is either biodynamic/organic and/or sustainable. It’s a worthy concept with a respectable quest that deserves reverence, but the fervor with which it is presented to the diner makes the whole thing feel a bit like being on an amusement ride in Eco-land. All that’s missing is the theme song.

For the beloved Bernie Sun—Wine Director for all of the Jean-Georges restaurants worldwide, recent James Beard award winner, and one of the country’s finest sommeliers—this concept presents a new territory. There’s no doubt he has a finger near the jugular when it comes to biodynamic, organic, and “natural” wines, but he isn’t exactly ahead of the curve with this list. Though that is not to say that it isn’t thoughtful and refreshing, because it is. Movia, Lapierre, Joly, COS, Trevallon, and friends are all there and priced well. In fact, most of the list falls under $100, and in terms of pricing, it just may be the Jean Georges Empire’s vinous answer to Nordstrom’s. But in all honesty, there are other lists in the city that extol these approaches to winemaking and boast a more progressive collection. So ABC’s list may not be the best of its kind, but it’s perhaps the most symbolic.

Via the cachet of Jean Georges and the clientele that have pledged allegiance to him, this org/bio/sustainable concept list marks, in some ways, the entrance of many perpetually marginalized producers to the dining mainstream. Yes, the gimmickry of the whole concept is fairly annoying, and for many members of the wine world that have been longtime advocates for conscientious winemaking, it will likely seem a bit disingenuous in its marketing, but in the grand scheme of things, this is a fine list that will succeed in introducing these wines to a new audience. Whether this is a good thing for the wine world at large really depends on who you ask. But either way, you’re probably going to want to dine here.

So, even if ABC gets Devendra Banhart to pen a pitchy eco-theme song called “It’s a Green World After All” and they play it on a loop, you’ll still be drinking ’01 Trevallon for under $100 at a Jean-Georges restaurant, and there is something to be said for that alone.

Bang For Your Buck
Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, Pierre Morey $45
As the man in the cellar at Domaine Leflaive for nearly 20 years, Pierre Morey earned his reputation as one of Burgundy’s greatest winemakers. Since stepping down from the helm at Leflaive, however, Morey has been dedicating all of his time to his own small domaine, along with his daughter Anne. Needless to say, there are able hands behind the Pierre Morey wines, and Burgundy’s other white grape— Aligoté—shines with a little PM brand of TLC.

Pinot Grigio 2006, Movia $55
One of our all-time favorite producers. Born of the biodynamic, non-interventionist canon, Ales Kristancic puts out some of the coolest and most affordable wines in all of Italy (although technically in Slovenia). Living proof that Pinot Grigio is a whole lot more than Santa Margherita.

Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2008, Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon $60
Dominique Lafon, one of the Burgundy’s all time greats, has spread his wings beyond his hometown of Meursault with an affordable collection of wines out of the Mâcon. Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine is one of four single-vineyard bottlings that each exhibit Lafon’s ability to produce wines that find their ‘ohm’ between roundness and precision.

Vacqueyras 2007, Clos de Caveau $55
There is a bunch of refugee value hiding in the Southern Rhone region of Vacqueyras. Domaine Clos de Caveau is located along the slopes Dentelles de Montmirail at about 650 feet above sea level, which yields leaner, more aromatic wines than those typically associated with Vacqueyras.

Madiran 2004, Chateau Montus $68
Alain Brumont has earned his reputation as one of France’s most skilled winemakers by managing to elevate the often overpowering and rebellious Tannat grape to produce wines that rival Madiran’s northern neighbors in Bordeaux. Here he manages to display the inherent power of the varietal as well as its rare and vulnerable finesse. This is a bit socially awkward upon opening, but a short spin in the decanter will break the ice.

Chassagne Montrachet Rouge ‘Boudriottes’ 2005, Chateau de la Maltroye $75
Although Chassagne Montrachet is best known for its exceptional white wines, the red wines from this area can prove to be excellent values, and in Maltroye’s hands, it’s almost guaranteed. This is classic, high-toned red Burg from the legendary ’05 vintage.

Off The Beaten Path
VdP des Bouches 2001, Domaine de Trevallon $95
One of our favorite wines out of Provence. This meaty VdP blend of 50% Cabernet and 50% Syrah vinified using minimal intervention has become one of France’s most beloved cult wines. Dirty, funky, and long-lived, the 2001 will need a decant, not only for the amount of sediment that it throws, but also for the tannic elbow it will undoubtedly sport upon opening. Keep away from seafood.

Crowd Pleaser
Bourgogne Blanc ‘Le Soeur Cadette’ 2007, Domaine de la Cadette $35
Hailing from village of Vézelay, La Cadette’s wines are some of the finest values in white Burgundy. Sourced from the same limestone-rich soil as Chablis, these wines are pure, focused, and flinty with a creamy mid-palate.

Zweigelt 2008, Judith Beck $38
This casual Zweigelt from this biodynamic/organic producer drinks like cru Beaujolais with softer, more forward fruit. Austria’s boozy rendition of the Slurpee, perhaps?

Under $40
Arbois (Savagnin) 2005, Tissot $39
Tucked away in the eastern flank between Burgundy and Switzerland, the Jura is responsible for some of the most distinctive wines in the world. Here, a charming, albeit quirky, wine vinified from the native Savagnin grape. Full of funk, salt, and citrus that is easily the most expressive wine on the list under $40.

Gueule de Loup NV, Chateau de Roquefort $36
Located on the edge of Provence’s Bandol region at about 1,000 feet above sea level, Chateau Roquefort produces excellent, value-driven whites and reds from its biodynamic vineyards. Here, a blend of both 2008 (which ended up being quite light) and the more concentrated 2007 vintage creates a charming wine that can play nice with dishes of varying weights.

Break The Bank
Rosso della Castellada 1997, La Castellada $138
It is with their barrel-aged white wines that the Bensa brothers entered the cult Friulian elite, but their rare red wine—only 2,500 bottles are produced each year—is worth seeking out as well. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that undergoes long macerations and 45 months in new French oak, the resulting wine is at odds with what one would assume from the techniques employed; the wine is low in alcohol, high-toned, earthy, and elegant. Drinking excellent at present.

Crozes Hermitage ‘Les Varonniers’ 2004, Chapoutier $105
This veritable dinosaur has been producing wine in the Rhone Valley since 1808, and this excellent vintage makes for a fine introduction to an appellation known for its youthful approachability. It’s medium to full-bodied with enough structure to stand up to a stick of butter. Will beg for a short whirl in the decanter.

Pauillac 2006, Chateau Pontet-Canet $235
Purple, tannic sin. At present, drinking this is an exercise in masochism. Needs at least 5 years to become worth the coin. If you can drop near $200, spend it on the Vouette et Sorbée NV at $180 and save yourself Pontet’s thirty lashes to the tongue.

WineChap is a start up that seeks to foster more intelligent boozing by demystifying the culture that surrounds restaurant wine lists. Currently the site boasts more than 160 wine list reviews in New York City.

abc kitchen

35 East 18th Street, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 475-5829 Visit Website

ABC Kitchen

35 East 18th St., New York, NY

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