In a city as wild and unpredictable as New York, we all have a story. We all have something that brought us here, something that keeps us here, some part of us that will stay here even after we leave. In every lit window in every apartment building, there is a life and a story of that life. And I imagine, sometimes, if each of those stories were captured, bottled up, what would the labels read? Liz Norment. 1986 Vintage. Origin in Virginia, aged and matured in American concrete and plaster within apartments in Brooklyn. A subtle bouquet of dry shampoo and whiskey, this wild and unexpected red is best paired with a good time.
Although I’m not too sure how palatable a collection of bottled-up New York stories would be (my own included), I do always prefer my wine to be paired with a good story. And thus, a good storyteller.
Sitting at the seductive round bar at Spirit Animal, a new wine and spirit shop in Williamsburg, I became part of the story that brought together a seasoned sommelier, a local chef, an entrepreneurial business owner, and bottles from over 300 small farms and passionate winemakers. Within minutes of talking with Sommelier Austin Flechler, I was able to understand that the desire of the shop is to focus on the story and the journey that are so inherent to every bottle of wine. Like a message in a bottle, their truly transportive approach to wine selection will carry you to a small producer and the farm where the vines were grown, to the grapes and their sensitivity to their environment, through the vigilant aging process until finally, it’s ready to be bottled and selected. And with Austin’s help, the perfect bottle will be chosen to be popped, opened, and shared among friends in your small little part of the story of this city.
The story of the shop started partially on a dining floor in Chelsea. Austin spent 7 years in the industry, from serving to management, into wine direction and finally earning the coveted title as a sommelier. Deciding to leave dirty plates behind, he left the city to spend some time traveling through Europe with the intention of getting to know the new winemakers of the old world. With a desire to focus on the viticulture renegades who were rejecting the financial appeal of high-volume production for natural, organic, biodynamic processes, he left with a newfound appreciation for this style of winemaking and more than a few friends in the industry.
Austin then found himself somehow guided back to New York with a lot of passion but not much of a plan. And that was when he was introduced to Chef Albert Di Meglio, an old friend in the industry, and brought into the magical space on Broadway that would become Spirit Animal. For the past 6 months, Austin and Albert have been working to fill the shop with enticing bottles from mostly natural and organic winemakers whose spirits will naturally draw people in.
The shop itself aims to curate and highlight the stories of the wines themselves. “Instead of having a row of Sancerres, we have 1 or two that we really believe in and can tell you about,” Austin explained.
I found myself at Spirit Animal in search for some seasonal wines to make the inevitable transition from summer into the cold a little less painful. He led me through the rows, picking out a spectrum that ranged from a bright Riesling to a spicy, local digestif.
As I left with a few bottles in my Brooklyn Airlines tote, a guest came into the shop. She was looking for a Bordeaux. “Oh, I see they aren’t organized by country here?” she asked Austin.
He explained to her that the wines were indeed organized by region. “We just don’t have signs. They’re too distracting.” He preferred instead, it seemed, to guide her over to the region she was curious about; to tell her just enough to give her a confident and genuine interest in her selection, while nudging her toward the wine he most believed in. “The winemakers pour their heart and soul into this one,” he explained. And as I left, I heard the story unfolding.
Dive into Austin’s Fall transition wine and spirit selection below.
Pere Mata Cuvada
If you know me, you know I’m a shameless hispanophile. And thus I believe that cava is truly seasonless, and absolutely shouldn’t be reserved just for special occasions or annoying brunches (fuck brunch.) Need proof? This bright, clean, and very down-to-earth cava will instantly transport you to the sun-drenched sss of Catalunya and maybe even a few of the bad decisions you made in Barcelona. Which is a place I like to be transported to quite often.
This orange wine from Austria sounds like a mouthful, but drinks like an easy-going, approachable pet nat. An elegant blend of Zweigelt and Saint Laurent grapes, it’s spunky, memorable, and best served when chilled and sipped while wearing a light sweater.
This bold little bottle will help you permanently separate that pesky “riesling” and “sweet” association in your mind. Exceptionally crisp (hello, Fall!) and bright, it will awaken your taste buds and prevent you from going into some sort of tasteless hibernation as the temperature drops. Bring this one to a party; its surprising flavor profile will instantly elevate your social status, or at least make up for whatever last-minute Halloween costume decision you’re going to make.
A winery created by two Catalan lovers inherently produces wines that drip with passion. They put their heart and soul into every bottle, and this smooth, seductive red was the one that first put them on the map. Made with 100% Trepat grapes, the varietal traditionally used in the region to make rose cava, this still yet lively wine is one you’ll easily fall in love with.
Forthave Marseille Amaro
If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the spicy, seductive world of Amaros, let this be your first foray. This spooky little spirit from Forthave in Bed-Stuy is based on the secret recipe of four medieval thieves. These thieves were caught stealing from plague victims in Marseille, and in exchange for clemency, they revealed their secret concoction. With notes of cinnamon, eucalyptus, and honey, it’s a smooth digestif that doesn’t need to wait for food, or thankfully, another plague, to be appreciated.
Spirit Animal is located at 20 Broadway in Williamsburg. Follow them on Instagram here and stay tuned for updates on upcoming events and classes!