Friday, December 12, 2008

A Sense of Place

A wine’s feel, its flavors, is defined by its environment, or terroir, which is the geology of the soil, the topography of the vineyard, the climate. It’s the vegetation that grows, and the food products that are produced and eaten, along with the wines. A good wine brings with it the feel of a place, invites you in to the pleasures of the table, brings people together.

We didn’t inherit this POV. When we first started down this road, we didn’t have a lot of money. We were living in San Francisco, bought food in bulk at places like Rainbow Grocery, shopped at Farmers’ Markets, cooked a lot at home, becoming more and more intensely curious about food and wine. We read cookbooks, read about wine, experimented, drank lots of different wines.
One of the cool things about being an American is how unlimited the choices are. But the number of choices can be overwhelming. And, because there isn’t a food and wine culture, a structure, like one would have, say, growing up in Burgundy, it’s daunting trying to figure things out, how to pair this with that.

Luckily in the San Francisco Bay Area fresh ingredients and good local wines are pretty easy to find. Thanks to people like Alice Waters, California Cuisine is a defined entity. Occasionally, we treated ourselves to a nice bottle, or were given one as a gift. We quickly found we preferred certain varietals and wanted to understand their roots. Which led us to the Kermit Lynch store in Berkeley, which was a revelation, a turning point, in our wine exploration/education. Whereas California wines, like New World wines in general, tend to have over-extracted flavors and high levels of alcohol, greet you like a punch in the face, Kermit Lynch’s traditional French wines are all about finesse and grace.

In the wine-producing regions of Europe, decisions on food and wine pairing fairly effortlessly reflect a sense of place. In America, pairing wine with food comes less naturally. We tend to feel intimidated, or think it’s pretentious, to talk about wine and to think about food and wine pairings. But wine and food are blessings, things to be enjoyed while you learn more and more about them. Maintain an open mind and give yourself the liberty to enjoy the open road.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Time Slows Down

Being a small business owner, it’s a challenge to take care of all the things that need to be addressed. But it’s a hell of a lot saner now with just Thirst on my plate. In fact, I'm downright freakin' happy.

At the moment I'm particularly juiced about two fantastic cuveés from Maxime Magnon, Rozeta (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah) and Campagnès (100% Carignan from 100-year-old vines) that recently arrived. Maxime is a young, artisanal vigneron based in Corbières. Wow, smell and taste the influence of the Gang of Four, but with a twist. In the glass is Languedoc, and in his talented hands the wines absolutely sing. 

If you haven’t visited us, and you’re in or around Brooklyn, New York, stop by and say hello. I think you'll find our selection interesting and thirst-inspiring, and discover some new gems that you won't find anywhere else.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm thankful to be able to supply our neighborhood with wines and spirits, to be a part of our community.

I'll never forget working with Emilia in the store Election Day evening, sharing stories about how long people stood in line to vote, how momentous it felt. Most of our regulars were hopeful and eager to celebrate but, after the previous two Presidential Elections, nervous about the outcome -- no matter what the pollsters were reporting. Nor will I ever forget my sense of sheer joy, or the spontaneous expressions of celebration all around me, when Barack Obama was declared the winner.

In NY, freezing temperatures and Thanksgiving go hand in hand. Growing up in Queens, Thanksgiving was a rare day when my father wasn't working in his grocery store. Different members of our extended family owned different holidays. While one aunt and uncle got dreary Yom Kippur, my mom had ownership of festive Thanksgiving. While mom prepared the Big Meal, dad and I would generally spend the morning together. I remember sitting on his shoulders watching the Macy's Parade. On another occasion, a few years later, bundled up beside him drinking hot chocolate on the sidelines of a Hofstra football game, a fierce wind feeling as if it was going to lift me off the ground. This year, Emilia and I will be working. Thirst will open a little early, 10am, and close early, 4pm.

My mom cooked like someone for whom cooking was a chore, tending to overcook things. There were some dishes she made that I found satisfying, like her tunafish salad, but I never saw her read a cookbook. Nonetheless she always made sure we were fed (and, especially, that I, her only son, was well fed). And food, of course, was especially abundant on T-Day when mom cooked fiendishly, stressed out and irritable, especially if my sisters weren't particularly helpful in the kitchen. Meanwhile the adults drank cocktails and joked, all of us hoping the turkey and stuffing weren't dried out. Regardless, when dinner was served, everyone ate heartily, with great relish even, adults at the main table, children at a card table nearby, and compliments were plentiful.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Awe-Inspiring & Unbelievable

Penguin's in the rear view mirror. My exhaustion dissipates. After sleeping in four days straight, I work out four days in a row. My energy comes back!

What an unbelievable joy it is to sleep in, leisurely read the NY Times, listen to NPR, meander, brainstorm, run errands, focus exclusively on the store.

Thirst has a number of in-store tastings coming up that I'm eagerly anticipating. In the immediate future, we have a Beaujolais Nouveau Celebration this Thursday, Zev Rovine on Sunday, and, wow!, host Amy Lillard from La Gramiere on Tuesday.

Emilia and I are excitedly planning our January wine trip!

And, yes, my birthday wish was granted. Thanks to everyone who made it happen! Our 44th President is a thinker, a reader, one real smart dude! Yay!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Present I Want

Less than two weeks before my exodus from Penguin, it feels as if I’m on the brink of Liberation. My last day happens to be my birthday. The only other present I want is President Obama!

The Kermit Lynch Lollapalooza Tasting was an absolute unfiltered blast. Emilia and I were a bit nervous about hosting six winemakers in our little store, but it went off without a hitch. It was great to see so many of our regular customers happily tasting the wines, interacting with the winemakers, and eating the meat and cheeses that Emilia selected.

Afterward we had dinner with the winemakers at Abistro. Everyone there, as always, was warm and hospitable, and the wines were showing great, especially Amiot’s Chassagne-Montrachet, which a number of our customers told us was a highlight (along with Thivin’s Côte de Brouilly). We also sampled a few that aren’t currently in the market that I hope Thirst will soon be able to offer. It was a pleasure again having dinner with Bruce Neyers and catching up with him. We settled on a plan to visit with him in France in a couple of months. I can hardly wait to meet Lulu Peyraud, who has had such a tremendous impact on us, and to taste with Aubert de Villaine!

Near the end of our dinner, which was excellent, especially the plantain gnocchi, Nucomme, who manages Abistro, greeted us looking like a latter-day Josephine Baker. She was made up for a performance she was giving later that evening nearby. I wish we could have checked it out but Emilia’s been fighting the flu and we’d already had a long day setting up the store for the tasting. Next time I have to make it to one of Nucomme’s shows--and you do too!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Peek into the Life of a Wine Merchant

Tuesday: The well-attended, festive Louis/Dressner National Tasting/20th Birthday Celebration. Taste hundreds of mind-bogglingly Real Wines in as coherent a fashion as possible, eat delicious food (thanks, largely, to the M in LDM, Kevin McKenna, I think), meet Joe’s rightfully proud mother (again), linger over the ’88 table, and schmooze with the glittering natural wine cognoscenti. Here’s to another 20 years!

Wednesday: A surprise dinner invite from my favorite contemporary sax player, Bill McHenry. Bill made a convivial Indian feast and regaled and inspired all of us with his wise insights into the human condition. Bill, thank you!

Tonight, from 6-8, Michael Messenie from Savio Soares returns for an in-store tasting. Mike will pour two Mittelrhein wines from Matthieu Muller (an 07 Kabinett Trocken with 8.8 grams of residual sugar and an 06 Spatlese with 101 grams of residual sugar) and a Mosel made by Michael Boch (a Beerenauslese with 161.5 grams of residual sugar). Savio himself is expected to drop by. We’re looking forward to dinner after hours with Savio and Mike -- an opportunity to taste more of Savio’s wines

Tomorrow, Friday, from 6-8, a Kermit Lynch Lollapalooza! featuring Christine Boucard, Domaine Chanteleuserie (Bourgeuil), Claude-Edouard Geoffray, Chateau Thivin (Cote de Brouilly, Brouilly), Olivier Savary, Domaine Savary (Chablis), Marie Zabalia, Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue (Coteaux du Languedoc), Fabrice Amiot, Domaine Guy Amiot (Chassagne-Montrachet) and Bruce Neyers, Neyers Vineyards (St. Helena, CA--and the National Sales Director for KLWM). Afterward, dinner with the winemakers and more winetasting!

Monday, October 13, 2008


Fear rules us too much. Now is the time to embrace change.

I've been working two full-time jobs for two years and I'm more than ready to leave my day job behind. Goodbye corporate boredom! Okay, there are some stimulating things about working in book publishing that I will miss, but I feel as if I was meant to be a wine merchant. And, boy, is it much better to be your own boss, even though running a small business is probably one of the most difficult things one can do. But it can also be one of the most satisfying. In fact, it's been a tremendous pleasure, beyond my expectations, to be able to start and run Thirst with Emilia. Our dialog about Thirst makes it better and truer.

The trick is not to be completely consumed by the store. When my father was a grocery store owner, the city required that he be closed one day a week. Now, that idea seems quaint and distant. It was hard for him to stop working but it might be even harder for me because I'm so obsessed with our products.

This is such an interesting time to live in. Scary, yes, but also a time when there is a sense of hopefulness. We are blessed, too, to have the best customers.