Wine Disciples: A Temple to Wine

January 30, 2016 1:18 pm Last Updated: February 1, 2016 12:45 pm

By all accounts, every wine lover should hightail it over to Wine Disciples—your palate will be delighted, your stomach will thank you, and your wallet will heave a sigh of relief.

When it opened six months ago, Wine Disciples changed the landscape for oenophiles and foodies alike.

The idea of a restaurant, Wine Disciples Enoteca, and adjoining Wine Disciples Shop, is simple enough. But Wine Disciples has the rare synergy of thoughtful, sophisticated food with lesser-known, interesting wines—including a large selection of organic wines.

(Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
(Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The standout feature, however, comes from owner Michael Coll’s past experience as a restaurant wine director. He was routinely approached by diners in restaurants asking where they could buy the fabulous wine they had just tasted. But it wasn’t as simple as sending them down to the local wine shop. Often they were wines that couldn’t be found in wine stores.

One of the biggest insider secrets in town—a secret that Edinburgh-born Coll is happy to let out of the bag—is that while the Enoteca has an extensive wine list of its own, you can drop by the Wine Disciples Shop, buy some fantastic wine, and then bring it over to the Enoteca to savor, along with some great food if you fancy.

Here’s why it’s a steal: a bottle of wine that retails for $75 would cost $150 at any other restaurant. At Wine Disciples you BYOB from the shop for $75 and pay a basic corkage fee of $25.

That’s a bargain compared to the normal wine markup in restaurants, where it’s sold at three to four times its wholesale value.

“I want people to explore. I’ve kept the prices lower than you’d expect to encourage people to be adventurous and to try that bottle that’s new or interesting to them,” Coll said.

And every Sunday the wines on the Enoteca wine list are sold at retail prices.

The Dining Experience

Coll’s vision always paired food with the wine, “You can’t talk about wine without talking about food. They go hand in hand historically and culturally,” he said.

Reflecting the wine selection, the food sensibility is toward organic, biodynamic, and locally sourced ingredients—as close to farm-to-table as one can get in the middle of Manhattan. There is also a marked sophistication to the dishes that is beyond most wine bars.

Diners enjoy a laugh over wine and food. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Diners enjoy a laugh over wine and food. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

By New York standards, the Enoteca is expansive, with plenty of elbow room, soaring ceilings, a beautiful pewter bar, and a rustic feel that emanates from the reclaimed wood in the tables and massive doors. The star motif, reflected in the tiles, reprises the striking Wine Disciples logo.

“The meaning of the eight-pointed star is harmony and balance, which is what wine is about,” said Coll. “It also means rebirth and regeneration and speaks to the cyclical journey of the vine throughout the year—from budding to harvest to dormant in the winter.”

Taking its inspiration from Italian cuisine, the Enoteca’s menu puts seasonal ingredients at the forefront. Simpler items, such as crostini with a Maine sardine, would be mediocre and boring with anything less than excellent ingredients. In this case the silvery sardine is butterflied—the tail and head left on—with the outline of its body perfectly matching the bread underneath. Both fish and bread are of the same thickness too. The sardine is gloriously rich and deep in flavor.

Crostino with peperonata. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Crostino with peperonata. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The more composed dishes often consist of only about three or four main ingredients. Unlike many menus that fall back on predictable flavor combinations, the combinations here are unexpected but also sophisticated. Diners will enjoy the subtle way that bitterness finds its way into some dishes.

Radicchio, for example, bears some subtle bitterness tempered through grilling. Slices of grapefruit add bittersweet notes, while pine nuts, sweetened, add a gentle texture, and mint brings a fresh, herbal note ($12).

Most noteworthy is mackerel, with a crispy skin, paired with a lemon purée that takes you straight to the Mediterranean ($14). Lush and velvety, it has a salty-sour-bitterness from the preserved lemons, and adds brightness to the intensity of the mackerel.

Mackerel with lemon purée. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Mackerel with lemon purée. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Smoky tender octopus, for its part, gets paired with pomelo, set against creamy yogurt with crunchy cubes of fennel ($16). Olives are slowly dried in the oven, giving them the texture of nuts—a real surprise.

A smoky, tender octopus is served with yogurt and olives. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
A smoky, tender octopus is served with yogurt and olives. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

One of the pleasures of perusing the wine shop beforehand is that it’s like a physical stroll through a wine list. When the elegant Coll walks through and points out his favorite bottles, he can’t help but touch each with a knowing, appreciative hand.

To stand up to the sturdy flavors of the mackerel and lemon dish, Coll points to a wine that matches in robustness—Gaia Muscadet from Belle Vue from the Loire Valley. “The Gaia Muscadet is more robust in flavor and broader on the palate. You also need a good amount of acidity to cut through the fat of the mackerel.”

To pair with the radicchio salad, Coll suggested a wine that has a “softer, slightly unctuous fruit component [with] … solid underlying acidity and minerality” to balance the sweet and bitter flavors of the dish—like the Derthona Timorasso from Valli Unite in Piedmont, for example.

“Something that basically surrounds the flavors and ushers them across the palate,” Coll said. “Even something gently sparkling that’s not too dry would go very well with that.”

If it sounds complicated—it’s not, he said. “A lot of people try to make it a complicated, difficult thing. It’s not really, especially if you know what’s in here [the bottle] and what’s on the plate, you’re going to know whether it’s going to work.”

Wine education—through tastings, classes, dinners with winemakers, a virtual sommelier app, and of course face-to-face—is something Coll is eager to offer.

People experience wine differently, Coll explained—whereas one person might physiologically be able to detect certain notes (think wine notes that mention leather, blackberries, or obscure aromas), another person may not be able to detect all of them, but may detect others, making wine appreciation a highly individual matter of perception.

Owner Michael Coll. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Owner Michael Coll. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

When I pressed him about particular recommendations for some dishes, Coll came up with a profile rather than a specific wine. He’s more interested to do the detective work to find out what people like, and most of all keen to help people find their own preferences. The first of the wine education classes, which starts Feb. 8, is named Find Your Palate.

In the back of the shop you’ll find a selection of craft spirits, chosen for the makers’ devotion to their craft: Applejack from Barking Irons and ultra high-end Japanese single malts like Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu’s The Peated. The Contratto Bitter from Italy is what Wine Disciples uses in cocktails rather than Campari, which Coll finds too pharmaceutical in taste.

He’s also big on promoting American craft distillers.

“It’s harder for [craft distillers] to break through than it was for boutique wineries or even craft brewers making beer. The big names in liquor have so much money and they spend so much on marketing. These guys are small and local, so we try and support their products and definitely their craft and sustainability philosophy,” he said.

Seasonal Fare

The beauty of a seasonal menu is getting to appreciate ingredients at their peak. And yet sometimes, it is sad to see the dishes you love disappear off the menu.

One such dish for me was the housemade garganelli, a cut of pasta that takes time to make on account of it first being cut and then wrapped around a textured wooden dowel.

This garganelli dish had somewhat of a surprise element, because it advertised capers, sultana raisins, and cauliflower. There was the emanating aroma of cauliflower but it was nowhere to be seen. The capers were present to be sure, fried, crunchy, salty, and then there were the raisins—not sweet, but tasting more capery than the capers themselves, owing to having been soaked in caper brine. And then beneath the garganelli, was the seared cauliflower—delightfully nutty, soft, and crunchy on top of a purée of cauliflower ($18).

It’s at this point you realize that as serious as the title Wine Disciples might be, there is indeed, as Coll insisted, a certain playfulness about the place.

Cue in a luxuriously rich dish you could imagine a hunter in a fairy tale forest tucking into after a long day—a wild boar shank of enormous proportion cooked in duck fat (the boars come from Texas, I was told), covered in delectable little pieces of candied walnuts and set on top of silky polenta ($28).

Wild boar shank over polenta. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Wild boar shank over polenta. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Or fancy a surf-and-turf? Don’t look for steak-and-lobster here. Instead there’s a meaty red snapper side by side with salty, punchy, umami-packed oxtail (made with fish sauce caramel) and a bed of juicy, crunchy red cabbage with a bright basil flavor ($30).

There was nothing nostalgic about dessert. It was all about pulling you into the present: a fennel panna cotta—looser than most panna cotta—topped with shards of sesame brittle and a drizzle of “saba,” a syrup made from cooking and reducing grape juice and reminiscent of reduced balsamic vinegar. Fresh and satisfying, it provided for a perfect ending to a meal ($12).

Fennel panna cotta. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Fennel panna cotta. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Wine Disciples Enoteca
129 W. 29th St. (between Sixth & Seventh avenues)
212-239-4199
winedisciples.com
winedisciplesenoteca.com

Hours
Monday–Friday 5 p.m.–midnight
Saturday: noon–4 p.m.; 5 p.m.–midnight
Sunday: noon–4 p.m.; 5 p.m.–11 p.m.
Weekday lunch starts Feb. 8: 12 p.m.–4 p.m.

Upcoming Events

Feb. 6: Free Wine Tasting
Drop by to taste up to 50 new wine selections, 1–4 p.m.

Feb. 8: Wine Classes Start
Led by instructor Dylan York, whose highly interactive classes are often sold out. Topics include Find Your Palate (Feb. 8, Feb. 14, and Feb. 27); Islands & Volcanoes (Feb. 13); Degrees of Flavor (Feb. 22 and March 12). Each class runs two hours. $75 per class.

Private event space with a rustic wine country feel available for dinners and receptions. Accommodates 10-40 people.

For more information, see winedisciplesenoteca.com

Can’t make it in? Shop online and get your wine delivered locally or shipped: winedisciples.com