When I first moved to New York, back in the '90s, the East Village was considered dangerous, but there were places that felt like home. Even the wine world was different and at Italian restaurants in the neighborhood the varietal of choice was invariably Chianti (Leggi in italiano)
In 1993 NYBG (New York before Giuliani), I moved to New York City and lived in a neighborhood called the East Village. I was eighteen years old, still a child in many ways (even though I felt like I was an adult). The East Village, as well as New York City, as a whole during that time, was considered a little dangerous, but that was changing.
The artists had started to move into the East Village. On one hand there were drug dealers and abandoned buildings, and on the other hand there were antique jewelry and book stores. I remember one used book store I loved. It was a large open space with many old sofas and old chairs. I would stay there for hours reading old great literature with the feeling I was in someone’s home. The owner seemed to always be listening to classical music and drinking a glass of wine. The books, typically beautiful old leather bound books, cost around ten dollars and no more. But every time I purchased a book, the owner would look at the price, and say that eight dollars was enough.
It was a different time in New York City. It was a dangerous and dirty place, yes, but it allowed many people to not worry too much about money. I knew things were changing when one day I was walking down the street and I saw that the book store looked permanently closed. There was a long letter taped to the outside of the window explaining that even though they had been there for 15 years, felt that the neighborhood was like their family, and believed in the idea of selling great books to young people with very little profit, they were being forced out of the space because of a huge rent increase. I remember my heart sank when I read the note. It was not just a book store to me; it was a place that felt like home.
There were more closings of tiny stores as rents for commercial and residential spaces started going up, and big corporations started buying buildings and spaces. But I am happy to say that not all things have changed. There are some places that were part of the old neighborhood still surviving. Lanza’s Italian Restaurant is one of them.
Lanza’s represents an old school style of New York Italian American food. I remember when I first had dinner there, over twenty years ago, and I had my first Chianti. At that time, Chianti was not considered a serious wine in New York City. Back then, wine lists were not complicated- there were very few options. Only a couple of reds and whites were available at most affordable restaurants, and if you were eating at an Italian restaurant, then your red wine of choice was Chianti.
Similar to the East Village, the selection of Italian wines has changed. Many different types of Italian wines are sold here now, and Chianti has become a much more respected wine.
As I sit back and enjoy a lovely Chianti Classico Riserva, I think back to those times. They certainly were not all great times. In the 1990s, there was always a sense of fear walking down the street, and there were unsavory characters on each corner. And even though I do miss some things about those times, I am happy that while some things have changed, some things have stayed the same.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2013 Castello Banfi Centine Toscana Bianco ($10): Banfi is a large company that was started by a man born and raised in New York, but with Italian ancestry. They offer many good wines for a good price from Tuscany. This white wine has citrus and peach notes with hints of dry herbs. Drink chilled on a warm spring day, and hopefully we will get warm weather in New York City soon!
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to 50)
2010 Antinori, “Villa Antinori”, Chianti Classico Riserva ($35): Antinori represents a winemaking family that has a long history of many generations. Even though they have kept some traditional practices, they have updated other practices with their new state of the art winery in Bargino. This Chianti is a very good example of why it is a wine that should be taken seriously. Sour cherry flavors with notes of espresso.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2010 La Serena Brunello di Montalcino ($55): This is made from a much smaller producer, actually two brothers named Andrea and Marcello Mantengoli. It has a rich texture with deep flavors of black currant and intoxicating aromas of tobacco leaf and exotic spice. Since this is a big wine, best to decant this wine for several hours before drinking, or hold it for 5-6 more years.