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LIVing Well with NYC Sommelier Doreen Winkler
February 17, 2017

In New York City’s vast world of food and drink, it’s easy to feel lost from the outside looking in — especially when it comes to wine territory. Thankfully, there are beacons of light amid the dark fervor that is navigating a carte des vins, and consulting sommelier Doreen Winkler is just the kind you’d want to stumble upon in the process.

Winkler specializes in natural wines and of late has taken interest in what is arguably the industry’s new golden child: orange wines. Her passion and excitement for the category is infectious, and from across a table over two glasses of peach-hued varietals at Have & Meyer in Brooklyn, she shared her insight on the natural wine scene, the spotlight on orange wines, and how to optimize the wine ordering experience from a pro’s perspective.

Tell us about yourself!

I’m originally from Germany. I’ve been a sommelier since 2003, but in the last three or four years, I’ve gotten very interested in natural wines. It’s since become my life and now I’m consulting for restaurants that only want to work with natural wines.

How would you explain the difference between natural wine and, say, biodynamic and other related categories?

It’s a bit complicated for everyone, I think, to understand the difference between sustainable, organic, biodynamic, et cetera…these are all just kind of different layers. At the end of the day, natural wine means that there are no additives incorporated into the wines. Basically, it’s defined by manipulating the wine as little as possible in the winemaking process.

Are you a red or white wine drinker typically? Or does it depend on the season?

I honestly drink everything [laughs]. It’s whatever I’m in the mood for — there are no favorites. And I like that because I think you shouldn’t be stuck with one thing. It depends also on the day, the time…

Tell us about some of the places you work with.

Sure! One of the places I work with is Sel Rrose on the Bowery — we started with a very small program there over a year ago, only twelve wines or so. And we increased it dramatically because we felt like, you know, it’s going to become something. And this has actually changed the entire vibe (per the owners, not patting myself on the back!). But it’s attracted a different crowd; more of the crowd that we had wanted to attract, as in the artist, people who are more open to things and people who are eating healthy and understanding that this is a whole circle. Everybody talks about farm-to-table, but nobody talks about what’s in their drinks. I also do the wine list at Figure 19 on Chrystie Street, where I’m doing Eastern European wines, which not a lot of people are doing. I have two orange wines on that list by the glass. I’m very proud of this one.

The third place I’m working on is a dive bar called Home Sweet Home, and there we’re only doing canned wines. That was a rough one — I felt very, very challenged by that. I remember thinking that there must be something out there besides Coppola that I can work with and that I would like. I knew that it would be some hard digging and it still is, but at the end of the day I did find some things and I’m very happy that I did this.

Lastly, I’m consulting for a wine store in Brooklyn called Urban Uncorked.

So you live on the Lower East Side. When you’re at home and feel like going out for a drink, what’s your go-to?

I like going to Fung Tu. I love going to Ten Bells. I go to Wildair too — otherwise I’ll take a cab over here to Have & Meyer or to Four Horsemen.

Okay, let’s dive into the wine experience from a consumer perspective. It’s safe to say that a lot of patrons and diners feel a bit intimidated by a wine list or even by the culture of having a sommelier on staff to guide the process. How do you dispel those fears? Or what advice do you have for those who might feel this way?

Well, not every sommelier is professional — some are trying to just drive the biggest sale. I think that you should make very clear what you’re comfortable with spending-wise, because that can kind of ruin your night. It can be very uncomfortable to say, “Oh, you can just pick two wines for me” and then to end up with a thousand dollar tab at the end. Anywhere you go, you should be able to find what you’re looking for. I think it’s good when you go to a high-end experience like Eleven Madison Park to do some pairings, and then you should talk about what you liked — everyone should be able at some point to understand their taste and what they like. And I think taking pictures of what you liked and the pricepoint is very helpful for the sommelier to try to see where you’re going.

To set up your next reservation at one of Doreen’s favorite places or to learn more about LIV’s favorite wine lists around the city, please contact your concierge.

Featured image via Jassy Onyae