Thursday, December 27, 2007

Me and the $25 Cocktail

Talking to James Meehan of PDT recently for an article, he mentioned to me the possibility of his introducing a list of "premium cocktails" using high-end liquor. One of these would possibly be a concoction called the Staggerac (hope I'm getting the spelling right), which, as you probably guess, is a spin on the old Sazerac using George T. Stagg, the prized, pricey, 137-proof bourbon.

I like rye in my Sazeracs, of course, but any drink that has anything to do with that classic cocktail excites me, so I took my earliest opportunity to try the new libation. Just before Christmas, I took a seat at the bar and asked for the Staggerac, which I saw was not yet on the menu. The bartendress was a bit surprised, but knew what I was talking about. She went to consult with her fellow bartender on the construction of the drink, as well as its price. She came back and said, "I can make it, but it will be $25. So you have been warned."

I accepted the terms and she went to work. I'm not sure on the other ingredients, but I know the requisite Absinthe was used, and a lemon peel was employed at the end. I've never spent $25 for a cocktail; never more than $15, really, and most people think I'm crazy to pay that. I'll say this, though: PDT didn't skimp on the product. The drink was fairly king-sized. Plus, the drink was strong. I ordered a cocktail after the Staggerac and I really shouldn't have. Because the Stagg left me hammered. I've rarely had such a potent cocktail.

So, be warned if you go into PDT for this treat. It's good, but remember: the Sazerac is meant to be a sipping cocktail, and so is this. Sip it over an hour. Take your time. And then maybe go home.

The Ribolla of Napa

Ribolla Gialla. If you know this grape at all, you know it's grown almost exclusively in the Friuli area of Italy and thereabouts.

I saw a cute little 500 ml bottle in my local wine store with the words Ribolla Gialla on it, so I picked it up, being a fan of the grape and of Friuli. Then I saw the words below it: Napa Valley. Huh? Only one other word was on the label, "Vare," the producer, so I looked them up and sure enough: This bottle represented the first and only planting of Ribolla Gialla in the United States.

George and Elsa Vare are in charge of this small-production vineyard. No surprise they grow Ribolla; their wines are patterned after the practices of Friuli winemakers. The wine is left on the lees for a while, whole cluster pressed and had a long, cool fermentation in once-used French oak barrels. Only 237 cases of 500ml bottles and 36 cases of 1.5 liter bottles were made.

They have a section on their website called "Heroes." Among the named are such Friuli greats as Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon. Hey, they're heroes to me, too.

I finished the wine in one night. (It is on the small side.) It's a good drink. It has a strong nose of lemon, petrol and tropical notes. Drinking, it's steely and mineral with a core of fruit, notably banana and lemon. The finish is long and rather metallic, though I don't mean that in a bad way. Very enjoyable. And very like its Friuli cousins, if a bit more mellow.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In the Cellar With La Pizza Fresca

One of the best things about writing my "In the Cellar" column for the New York Sun is it causes me to discover restaurants that I otherwise might pass by. Several people had recommended La Pizza Fresca to me as a destination not only for superior pie but great wine. But I didn't make it there until I assigned myself to cover it. The wine list is as impressive as everyone says, and goes startling well with the pizza, jacking up my already high opinion of that food.

One thing I didn't get into in the article is the actually cellar. (Ironic, no?) That's because the owner, Brad, is a little sheepish about it. The place is an endearing mess, boxes upon boxes piled on each other, unpacked, with almost not place to walk. It would take half a year to sort it out. "I don't even show it to my friends," he told me.

Eating Pizza, Sipping Sassicaia


The owner and managing director of the Flatiron district restaurant La Pizza Fresca, Bradley Bonnewell, was staring across the room at a dark-haired man in an expensive-looking suit. The diner, seated at a table near the bar, was lustily enjoying his meal. Mr. Bonnewell had never met him and didn't know his name, but he recognized the face — and for good reason. "The guy comes in at least twice a week," he said. "He spends maybe $100 on food and $1,000 on wine."

If you possess the wherewithal, this spending ratio is easily achieved at La Pizza Fresca. The restaurant is known for having forged an unusual, yet happy, symbiosis between excellent, inexpensive Neapolitan-style pizza and superior, quite expensive top-drawer Italian wine. The suited big spender's taste in pizza was quite common — Pizza Marinara and Margarita. His taste in wine, however, skewed toward premium Barolo and Brunello.

La Pizza Fresca (31 E. 20th St. at Broadway, 212-598-0141) is made for the lover of Italy's finer culinary achievements: coffee, pizza, and red wine. Mr. Bonnewell, a onetime advertising executive, fell under the spell of these three delicacies in that order. He entered the food world as the owner of the Manhattan Espresso Café in Midtown East. While on a coffee-buying trip in 1993, he followed a visit to Naples' Kimbo Coffee with lunch at a local pizzeria. "It was just 11 a.m. or 11:30 and they were just getting the fire going and getting the dough out," he recalled. "It was so theatrical. You see all the fresh ingredients and the whole set-up. Finally, you taste your pizza and it's unbelievable. I thought, 'What the hell.'"

He gave up the idea of expanding his café empire, and set his mind on opening a Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant in New York City. La Pizza Fresca opened in 1996, complete with a new brick oven built by an Italian pizzaiolo-bricklayer (a hyphenate profession that could only have been hatched in Naples). One thing Mr. Bonnewell didn't copy was the Italians' habit of eating their pizza with beer or soda. The newborn La Pizza Fresca featured a small wine list.

So, then, how did that list grow to 750 selections, including multiple vintages from the top Piedmont and Tuscany producers? Mr. Bonnewell shrugged, as if the circumstance were the most natural thing in the world. "If you like quality, it's just easy. You drink the cheap wine and then you drink the great wine, and you say, 'Hey, why am I drinking the cheap wine?' I just kind of progressed."

Progressed is one way of putting it. Three-quarters of the list's Barbarescos come from Angelo Gaja, arguably the most famous and highly lauded winemaker in Italy. There are three densely packed pages of Barolos. The famed Super Tuscans Sassicaia and Tignanello are also here in force, as well as a nice selection of wines priced under $75. All this to accompany food you eat with your hands.

The seeming dichotomy doesn't faze Mr. Bonnewell in the least. By now, he's had years of practice defending his particular food and wine-pairing mission. Still, he's willing to prove the argument's validity one more time for a skeptical journalist, opening a bottle of 2004 Moccagatta Barbaresco to wash down a Pizza Savoia topped with mushrooms, pancetta, Fontina cheese, and bufala mozzarella. The bottle and pie, both brimming with Piedmontese character, went amazingly well together, existing in a kind of class-neutral epicurean harmony. The humble meal and heralded wine clearly deserved each other's company.

Mr. Bonnewell's wine world is basically one of beautiful Italian reds. He knows there are people out there with differing palates. He's willing to cater to them, but only just so much. "We're not trying to be so democratic," he said. "We basically buy what we like to drink, and I personally am not a huge white wine fan. With the brick oven, we're pretty much a winter place. We're pretty dead in July and August. Also, I've never had a complaint that we don't have enough whites."

As for people who — ahem — insist on drinking something not produced anywhere on the Italian boot, there is a last resort. Mr. Bonnewell calls it the "Rest of the World List," and it's not immediately shown to guests. This list is where you'll find the wines made in Spain, Argentina, California, and elsewhere. La Pizza Fresca's owner admits that not even he is completely immune to the charms of these wines: "Of course, I love some of the great wines of the rest of the world, but I'm not satisfied."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Best Drinking Block in Manhattan?

For my money, E. 20th Street has become the best place to take your thirsty self in Manhattan.

I'm talking in particular of the single block between Park Avenue South and Fifth Avenue. On the south side, you have Gramery Tavern, one of the most elegant spaces in the city with one of the best wine lists and array of cocktails and spirits by the glass. Next door is Flute, the bar dedicated to Champagne.

Across the street is vino temple Veritas, where the storied wine cellar of Bordeaux and Burgundy forever shoved the food in the back seat. Down the street is La Pizza Fresca, home of a surprisingly deep collection of first class Barolos and Barbarescos. Next to that is Moore Bros., one of the best wine stores in the City.

Though they are not specifically on that block, I include in this geographical constellation Fleur de Sel, a nice French bistro with a respectable list, despite its tendency to capriciously fire good sommeliers, and Flatiron Lounge, the top-notch cocktail lounge on E. 19th.

There are few cravings that can't be assuaged on this street.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Dickens of a Drink

I'm always happy when I can work Charles Dickens into a story, so a recent piece I wrote for the New York Sun about holiday drinks was a pleasure to compose. Someone yesterday asked me, "What's a holiday drink?" Good question. And that's why I wrote the article. For years, the category has been occupied by a single beverage: egg nog. But the cocktail police have blown the whistle on that situation, and have been bringing out more options, including old-fashioned punches, the one-time classic Tom & Jerry and Hot Buttered Rum, as well as various mulled wines and ciders.

For the article, I talked to people at PDT, Death & Co., Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club. Here's the piece:

Houses Of Spirits

In the final pages of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," Ebenezer Scrooge, newly embracing goodwill toward men, raises the salary of his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit and declares: "… we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop!"

Smoking bishop was a punch, of course. This convivial category of alcoholic beverage — typically composed of water, sugar, lemon, spice, and wine or spirits — was, for nearly 200 years, as popular in America as it was in England. By the mid-19th century, however, it had been supplanted by the "short drink" and cocktail. Still, even as it waned in popularity, the punch retained a grip on the drinker's imagination, particularly around Christmastime. The image of a circle of friends or family gaily ladling out elixir from a bowl, and toasting each other's health, all but screamed yuletide. Ditto such cold-weather drinks as the Tom & Jerry and Hot Buttered Rum.

How holiday imbibing has changed! Until recently, a thirsty reveler was as likely to encounter the Ghost of Christmas Present in a bar as a bowl of decent punch. The movers and shakers of the current cocktail renaissance, however, are doing their part to ensure that the season of giving will once again mean hot and shared drinks.

Co-workers, pals, or strangers who wish to bond over a bowl can now head to Death & Co. (433 E. 6th St., between First Avenue and Avenue A, 212-388-0882), an East Village drink emporium that boasts a punch section on its cocktail menu. The inspiration for the brews came from merry olde England itself. "We went over to London in March, just to drink," one of the bartenders at Death & Co., Philip Ward, said. "There's a good bar scene in London. One bar we went to was doing punches. The punch wasn't any good, but it was a really cool service. We decided to do it and actually make really good punch. This is something that is good for holidays. It's very communal."

Though the punches have been available at the saloon for some time, the management recently added some new concoctions geared toward the cold-weather months. These include one called Jersey Lightning, composed of Laird's Applejack (which is made in New Jersey, hence the name), Harvest Moon Tea-infused Carpano Antica vermouth, fresh lemon juice, and a dash of Peychaud's Bitters. Another punch is the Spread Eagle, contributed by cocktail historian David Wondrich, and based on a recipe by 19th-century drink master Jerry Thomas. It's made of Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Compass Box Asyla scotch, fresh lemon juice, and muddled lemon peel, and topped with fresh grated nutmeg.

All of Death & Co.'s punches are served cold, but the tavern can fix you up if you're in need of a steaming cup. One option is the Hot Buttered Rum, a beverage many have read about or seen downed in old period films, but never tried. In its version, the bar uses its own spiced butter.

The owner of the Flatiron Lounge (37 W. 19th St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues, 212-727-7741), Julie Reiner, said she always brings out a couple of hot drinks when the temperatures dip. (Seasonal menus are rather a point of pride among newer cocktail mavens.) This year, she'll feature a Glögg — which is a Swedish mulled wine, made, in her version, with a red wine base, port, and spices — and a hot apple brandy that brings together apple cider mulled with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, Cognac, and spiced butter. (Take note: These attractions are likely to hit the menu later this month.)

At PDT (113 St. Marks Place, between First Avenue and Avenue A, 212-614-0386), the meta-speakeasy where you enter through a wooden phone booth in the neighboring hot dog joint, winter will be greeted not by traditional cold-weather drinks, but new creations using lustier, heartier liquors. "As the seasons change, the spirits get darker, a little more savory, and somewhat more spicy," a bartender there, James Meehan, who helps to manage the East Village bar, said. Debut creations will include the Black Flip, a spin on classic egg-based flips that combines Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and a whole egg. Also on the menu will be a Benton's Old Fashioned, a cocktail that can give you a warm feeling just thinking about its ingredients: bacon-infused George Dickel whiskey, Grade B maple syrup, and Angostura bitters.

One potation that was once as closely associated with the holidays as eggnog is the Tom & Jerry. This egg-loaded, heavily spiced meeting of rum and cognac reigned supreme throughout the 19th century, and even today can be found in homey bars in the upper Midwest. (My Wisconsinite parents still break out the Tom & Jerry drink mix every December 25.) But in New York, it's a rare bird, even in the most luxe cocktail dens — and for good reason. Preparing a Tom & Jerry is a pain. It takes time and room, as it involves mixing a complex batter with several ingredients, and heating liquids.

One place you can bank on booking a bowl of the creamy stuff is Pegu Clubon Houston Street, where Audrey Saunders's recipe is legendary. The drink seems to hold a special place in mixologists' hearts this time of year. "Last Christmas when I got home from a party, I made myself a Tom & Jerry," Mr. Meehan said.

Mr. Simonson maintains the wine and spirits Web log "Off the Presses."

Jersey Lightning Punch

Courtesy of Death & Co.

12 sugar cubes
3 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth infused with Harvest Moon tea*
9 oz. club soda
6 oz. Laird's Bonded Applejack
6 to 8 dashes of Peychaud Bitters
Ice, cubes and one large block
Apple slices, for garnish
Cinnamon sticks, for garnish

1. Dissolve sugar cubes into 3 ounces of club soda. You may have to muddle them a little.

2. Stir in lemon juice, infused sweet vermouth, Applejack, and bitters.

3. Add several ice cubes and stir until cold.

4. Strain ice cubes from mixture.

5. Add 6 more ounces of club soda.

6. Pour over a large piece of ice.

7. Garnish with apple slices and cinnamon sticks.

Serves 2 or more, depending on thirst.

* Harvest Moon tea is available at Sympathy for the Kettle, 109 St. Marks Place, between First Avenue and Avenue A, 212-979-1650.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's Wrong With Most Cocktail Joints?

This is what's wrong with most cocktail joints. Or, rather, the places that fancy themselves cocktail joints.

I was on the Upper West Side and I pasted by a bar called The Evelyn Lounge. Being a New York history buff, I knew immediately what they were talking about: chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, who used to perch on a red velvet swing in the altogether to please libidinous architect Stanford White. When her husband found out, he fired a gun into White's head at Madison Square Garden. Big scandal 100 years back.

So I was naturally attracted and came in close to eyeball the cocktail menuu. I very nearly threw up. I mean, just look at it. This isn't a cocktail menu. It's a recipe for intoxication for people who don't know anything about spirits and don't like the way alcohol tastes. It's candy for would-be grown-ups. The drinks are even named after soda pop and ice cream: Orange Crush, Pink Lemonade, Creamsicle. Vodka and juice, vodka and juice, with a little rum thrown in for variety.

And the drink named after Nesbit? Absolute ruby red vodka, peach schnapps, tonic and lime juice. I doubt the real Evelyn ever encountered vodka in her life. Gin, yes, and plenty of it.

The only cool thing about the place is the address, 380 Columbus. After Harry Thaw, Evelyn's jealous husband, shot and killed White, the couple retired in this buidling.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Me and Tom & Jerry

In terms of cuisine, my family had a strange relationship with Christmas. The night before Christmas meant my father's preferred meal of oyster stew, a tradition he carried over from his childhood. I never did understand its origins and never met another soul who celebrated the night that way. Christmas Day could mean anything from lasagna to chicken breasts stuffed with cheese to chicken curry; we never once had ham or turkey.

And when it was time for a libation, nobody every suggested egg nog. It was Tom & Jerrys all the way. Growing up, I thought everyone drank Tom and Jerrys on Christmas. I only learned different when I went away to college, and when I moved to New York City shortly after, I discovered that most of the population not only abstained from the drink, but didn't even know what the hell it was. The cartoon, they knew. The drink, no.

The Tom & Jerry dates back the stone age of cocktails, going back nearly 200 years. Many are under the misconception that bartender extraordinaire Jerry Thomas invented it (Jerry himself was one of them). Whoever did come up with it, the thing was a smash. No yuletide throughout much of the 19th century was celebrated without bowls upon bowls of the egg-laden, spice-haven, rum and brandy-laced concoction. You can still find Tom & Jerry bowls and cups on eBay and in antique stores.

The Tom & Jerry waned with the rise of the cold cocktail and pretty much died with Prohibition. But for some reason, it retained a grip on the upper Midwest, including my home state of Wisconsin. Can't say why. It may be because hot drinks remain attractive in cold climates. It could be Wisconsin's strange attachment to brandy. Anyway, my parent never did without their Tom & Jerry on Dec. 25. Neither did their friends. It was so popular that Tom & Jerry "mix" could be purchased at any grocery store or liquor shop.

I never remember liking the drink. It just seemed like hot water laced with bad booze and milk, topped with cinnamon. It's very possible my parents didn't make a top notch Tom & Jerry. (Very possible.) Ten years ago, I found some Tom & Jerry mugs at a stoop sale, and honored the occasion by trying to mix up a batch of hooch on my own. Again, it was awful, but, in fairness, I recall having bought fairly cheap rum and brandy. (This was before my spirits re-education.) After that I gave up.

In researching a recent article for the New York Sun about holiday drinks, however, my curiosity has again been aroused. I know what should be done, now, and will give it a shot again this X-mas. First, however, I may drop by The Pegu Club where, I'm told, Audrey Saunders mixes up a bad Tom & Jerry. I obviously need instruction

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Good Idea, Bad Source

The other day I was headed toward the Union Square subway station, minding my own business, when a group of folks duded out in vintage attire accosted me and encouraged me to celebrate Repeal Day. The day Prohibition was repealed, they meant, that day being Dec. 5. The men had overcoats and fedoras on and the women lacquered hair and flapper outfits. Some acting stunt, I thought.

Upon quizzing them, they expressed their zeal for their cause, saying Repeal Day should be made a national holiday. But who was behind the movement?, I asked. No one, they said. Just a good cause. For a second, I believed them. A lark, I thought, and not a bad idea. Repeal Day would make for a nicely irreverent holiday.

But then, looking at the button they handed me, I noticed at the bottom in small print was the web address for Dewar's. The whole exhibition was a marketing scheme, one small part of a national campaign. And the well-dressed barkers were just some yahoo actors for hire. OK, fine, good. But say so! Don't pretend you're really into it and Dewar's ain't paying the check.

Now, to find some people who really do want to make Repeal Day a holiday and not just sell a bottle of blended whiskey.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Lost Cocktail?

I don't want to jump the gun here, because there are so many cocktails out there, and so many cocktail experts with encyclopedic memories. But I think I may have discovered a lost cocktail.

It's called a Dreicer Special. I think I'm safe in assuming that it was lost to time for a few reasons. One, it was probably never exceedingly popular to begin with. Two, it was invented by one Maurice Dreicer, a true New York character of the 1940s and 1950s who, beginning in 1942, devoted his life "to the search of the perfect steak." Few remember Dreicer today. He spent thousands of dollars in this quest, and ate at thousands of restaurants, eating steak at least once a day. The man was an extreme epicure, but of a very narrow focus. However, Dreicer did on occasion eat other things. Shrimp cocktails were in his repertoire, as was alcohol. He is said to have invented two cocktails: the Dreicer Daiquiri and the Dreicer Special. (He actually made a bit of a splash in the cocktail world, having recording a popular album titled "How to Mix Them." He died in 1989.))

My third reason for believing this cocktail to be lost is it was published only once to my knowledge, in a collection of profiles, long out of print, called "It Takes All Kinds." The book was written by one Maurice Zolotow, who published many biographies, and was prone to writing about the obscure and the eccentric. The book came out in 1952.

I haven't tried the Dreicer Daiquiri yet; it required some ingredients I didn't have on hand. But I did test the Dreicer Special, and found Maurice to have been a man of simple but refined tastes. It's an easy mix:

2/5 Pimm's No. 1
2/5 Grenadine
1/5 lemon juice

Stir with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass. The resultant libation is distinctly refreshing, on the sweet side and light in alcohol. The Pimm's comes through most strongly, and the lemon juice nicely cuts through the Grenadine. I'd say it's ideal for summer drinking, or when you want something light. It certainly deserves to be put back in circulation.

Again, the drink may be out there under a different name. But my search turned up nothing. I welcome people to write in with any knowledge they may possess about this potion.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

In the Cellar at Capsouto Freres

My November edition of the "In the Cellar" column in the New York Sun appeared on Dec. 5. (Don't ask. Scheduling problems.) I was attracted by Capsouto Freres when I heard of the Tribeca restaurant's emphasis on Israeli wines, which, to my knowledge, is singular outside kosher establishments. I spoke with Jacques Capsouto, the world-weary but warm wine director. Here is the article:

An Ambassador of Israeli Wine

Read the wine list at any high-end restaurant in Manhattan and you'll get a good idea of the wine director's likes and dislikes, and perhaps a hint of what kind of food is being conjured in the kitchen. The wine list at Capsouto Frères, the breezily elegant TriBeCa restaurant, however, could be interpreted as a compact biography of its creator, Jacques Capsouto, who, along with his brothers Albert and Samuel, in 1980 installed the restaurant in a remote, former spice warehouse at the corner of Watts and Washington streets.

Jacques and his brothers were born into a French-speaking Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, fled in 1957 to Lyon, France, after the Suez War, and then immigrated to New York City four years later. Fittingly, the Capsouto Frères wine list is made up of bottles from only three countries: France, America, and Israel.

American and French wines can be found in almost every restaurant cellar in town, of course. It is Mr. Capsouto's collection of Israeli wines that has caught the attention of critics and imbibers. He doesn't just have a token red and a token white, as is often the case. His 150-bottle selection includes 20 wines from Israel, such as a Yarden Brut Blanc De Blanc sparkler and a Yarden muscat sweet wine, as well as a Dalton sauvignon blanc and Yarden Merlot. (In case you haven't noticed yet, Jacques Capsouto is a passionate advocate of Yarden, whose role in the Israeli wine boom he likens to that of Robert Mondavi Winery in California.)

"I actually had a Yarden on the list, a chardonnay, when it came to the New York market in the early '80s," Mr. Capsouto, who still retains an Old World accent and a certain air of charming Weltzschmertz to go with it, said. But it wasn't until a 2004 trip to Israel — his first in decades — that he discovered the strides the country's wine industry had taken in recent years.

When Mr. Capsouto talks of Israeli wine, he talks of "two evolutions." The first was spurred on by Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild, a Zionist member of the famous French wine family, who traveled in the 1890s to Palestine and began buying plots of land from the Turks. The acres, mostly along the coast, were then given to local farmers, who planted vines. (Carmel was one of the wineries born at this time.) The second big movement came during the 1980s and continues to this day, paralleling similar drives toward higher quality wine in other countries across the world. Among the newer, generally smaller Israeli wineries now garnering praise and attention are Margalit, Domaine du Castel, and Bazelet ha Golan.

Mr. Capsouto makes it clear that, by supporting the country's vineyards, he's expressing his enthusiasm for the region's wines, not the particular style of wine for which that region is best known. "I'm representing Israeli wines," he said. "I'm not representing kosher wines." He points out that a number of the Israeli bottles on the list bear no hecksher, or kosher certification. "Of the boutique wineries in Israel, about 70 to 80% are not kosher."

The restaurant isn't the first business to bear the name Capsouto Frères. A sign with that legend once hung above a small women's accessories shop in Alexandria. It was run by the siblings' father and his brothers, who specialized in such delicate sartorial luxuries as silk stockings and scarves.

"When we were opening the restaurant, we were trying to come up with a name," Mr. Capsouto said. "My mother came out with this picture of the store and said, 'Why don't you call the restaurant Capsouto Frères?' That's why it's called Capsouto Frères instead of Watts on Washington." Black-and-white shots of the old shop now sit on a table near the restaurant's entrance; the store's wares are advertised on the façade in English, French, and Arabic.

Another bottle on the Capsouto Frères list betrays yet another chapter in the family's story. It's a wine from Gundlach Bundschu, a Sonoma Valley winery with an unwieldy Germanic name and a long history.

"Seven or eight years ago, the Bundschu family was looking at their records and they were trying to figure out where their New York warehouse had been," Mr. Capsouto said. "They had abandoned the warehouse after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, when their winery got burned." The ancestors of Bundschu (a Bundschu married Gundlach daughter, thus the name) came to Jacques armed with a couple of king-size blow-ups of old documents and the conviction that the home of Capsouto Frères was none other than their long-lost warehouse. One of the documents was an etching of the 1891 landmark neo-Flemish building. Albert Capsouto pointed out a horse and cart laden with boxes in the foreground of the picture. "That looks like wine to me," Albert said.

Jacques Capsouto was convinced enough to host a tasting that re-introduced Gundlach Bundschu to the New York market a few years ago. He also put one of their wines on his list. Was he, perhaps, being sentimental? He pursed his lips ever so slightly, and replied: "If it wasn't good, I wouldn't put it on the list."