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November 2003
Where to Dine with Fine Organic Wine

105 1st Ave. (between 6 and 7 Streets), New York; (212) 982-5870.

If you are interested in exploring the breadth of organic wines available, simply pull up a stool at Counter. The new vegan restaurant and wine bar in New York’s East Village offers a list of over 50 sustainably-grown, organic and biodynamic wines, selected by co-owner Donna Binder. Standouts available by the glass include the Spanish red Hermonos Sastre, from Ribera del Duero, for $9 or the crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Sanford in Santa Barbara, which, unusually, has been blended with the aromatic white Gewürztraminer grape, for $8. There are also two sparkling wines available by the glass, to help celebrate life’s everyday milestones.

Counter offers two different wine ‘flights,’ which are an inviting and economical way to enjoy and explore wines. A flight is a group of tasting-size servings of wines from a particular region, grape variety or vineyard. Binder changes the flights regularly, but recent examples include three Loire Valley Reds (Saumur Rouge, Chinon and Cabernet Franc) for $11 and three Spanish Reds (Rioja Crianza, Ribera del Duero and Priorat), for $10. Binder is also planning a vegan flight and what she calls an ‘oddballs and heirlooms’ flight incorporating little known and older varieties, in the near future.

The expansive wine list includes representatives from well-known areas, such as Burgundy and Spain, as well as many pleasant surprises: Hermann Wiemer’s Johannisberg Riesling, which was just named the best New York State wine; a South African Pinotage; and an estate-bottled Port. Each wine on the list is identified as sustainably-grown, organic or biodynamic.

Binder notes that the wine list is constantly evolving, reflecting her commitment to continuously taste and discover new and exciting wines from around the world. She enthuses over the list and is quick to recommend her favorites, which at the moment include the relatively unknown Schioppettino Ronchi Di Cialla from Friuli, Italy, for $34 and the Veliko Rosso, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir from Movia, Slovenia, at $45 per bottle.

Counter offers several wine and food pairings, including a tapas and wine combination, as well as a special Thanksgiving feast on November 27th. The holiday meal matches a different wine with each of the five courses ($50 per person, additional $25 for wine tasting).

For beer drinkers, Counter also pours Wolaver’s Organic India Pale Ale on tap; and their list of bottled organic beers includes Samuel Smith Lager, Pinkus Muller Wheat Hefe-weizen, Butte Creek Ale and co-owner Debra DeVito’s favorite, Dupont Foret. Organic sake, raspberry kir and sangria round out the wealth of drink choices at Counter.—S.M.

Candle Café 79
154 E. 79 Street (near Lexington Ave.), New York; (212) 537-7179.
Anyone familiar with the beloved original Candle Café (1307 3rd Ave.; 212-472-0970) knows how fantastic vegan food can be. Now there is a new upscale version to explore a few blocks away, with a more sophisticated menu and lovely décor, creating a sublime dining experience. Just because you care about animals doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy gorgeous gourmet food in a beautiful setting—and, of course, fine wine.

Candle Café’s Trina Fosness has curated a list with over two dozen organic wines, including dessert and sparkling wines, several kinds of bottled organic beers (two on tap!), and some exotic sake-based cocktails. Fosness carefully vetted the wines, tasting dozens (life is harsh!), to arrive at the current selection. Along with organic certification, Candle’s wine distributor assures Fosness that they are all vegan. Naturally, French, Italian, Spanish and Californian wines are on offer; wines ranging from Argentina to South Africa to New Zealand are also available.

Trina also took care to find wines from smaller vintners, and included wines like the smooth, dry Cabernet Sauvignon from family-owned La Rocca Vineyards, and a peppery Zinfandel from Orleans Hill—both sulfite-free and from California. Respected European vintners are also represented: a slightly spicy red Barbera from the Italian Nuova Cappelletta estate winery; and Guy Bossard’s delicate white Muscadet sur Lie. Quite refreshing is the sweet Riesling from Washington’s Badger Mountain; and the moody red Malbec by Argentina’s Cavas de Chacras was a pleasant discovery.

For those, like me, who know very little about wine (I know what I like—that’s about it), here are a few tips. When selecting a wine to pair with food, feel free to ask the server questions and don’t be bashful. Those familiar with the Candle Café know how attentive and knowledgeable the staff is. The same is true at 79th Street. Rather than matching a wine to a certain vegetable, pairing up with flavors is easier, Fosness says. Candle’s wine list describes the characteristics of each wine, so you can use that as a rule of thumb. For example, if you’re having spicy, peppery food, Trina recommends choosing a wine with a similar description, like a Zinfandel. The Barbera goes well with Indian food or chipotle, she says. Stronger, more complex flavors—like vinegary dressings or heavy garlic—can be complimented with a more full-bodied wine—a Cabernet or Shiraz, for instance. Generally, sweeter fruitier wines linger more on the palate.

So what wine would Trina pair with Candle’s famous double-layer chocolate cake? One that isn’t too peppery and slightly sweet, she says, like a Malbec or Port.

Several wines are available by the glass, hovering around $8 or $9; full bottles range between $24 and $38. Give it a try and bon appétit!—C.C.

A sampler of other restaurants and bars around the country that highlight organic and biodynamic wines include:

Café Ambrosia, 2501 Fairview Ave. East, Seattle, WA; (206) 325-7111

The Blues Diner, 454 Main St., Melrose, MA; (781) 662-0038

The Green Table, Chelsea Market 75 9th Ave., New York, NY; (212) 741-9174

Greens Restaurant, Fort Mason, Building A, San Francisco, CA; (415) 771-6222

Herban Kitchen, 290 Hudson St., New York, NY; (212) 627-2257

Millennium, 580 Geary St., San Francisco, CA; (415) 345-3900

Organic Garden Café & Juice Bar, 294 Cabot St., Beverly, MA; (978) 922-0004

Restaurant Nora, 2132 Florida Ave. NW, Washington, DC; (202) 462-5143

White Dog Café, 3420 Sansom St., Philadelphia, PA; (215) 386-9224

Wildwood, 1221 NW 21st Ave., Portland, OR; (503) 248-9663. —S.M.


The Internet has a wealth of information about organic wine and a number of websites that allow consumers to buy organic wine directly. Pay attention to the fine print, as laws about shipping alcohol vary from state to state. Some great web-based resources are listed here to get you started.

Organic Kitchen
( lists organic vintners by state and country, with a good list of web-based distributors.

Organic Vintners (; 800-216-3898) sells a large selection of international certified organic wines; and has a "Vintner of the Month" club (two bottles for $28 per month).

Organic Wine Company (; 888-ECO-WINE) has been distributing primarily French organic wines for over 20 years. [See interview on p. 14.]

The Organic Wine Press (; 541-347-3326) is an Oregon-based distributor. Their "Wino of the Month" club offers two bottles of organic wine ($30 per month).—S.M.

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