Originally published in the Manhattan Times

by Laura Corrigan

Pass by the weathered wine barrel and through the door of Vines on Pine and prepare to have your thirst for wine and spirits quenched. The wine bottles are displayed like jewels, the employees are welcoming, and if you stop in Fridays through Sundays, there’s usually an open bottle of something tasty to sample.

Amid the gleaming bottles of Pinot Blanc, Malbec, and Riesling, you’re likely to meet one of the partners of Vines on Pine: Terry Peel, Frank McHugh, or Bill Rodriguez, all of Frank’s Market fame. The polished, warmly lit store just around the corner from 187th Street on Pinehurst celebrated its two year anniversary in May. The combination of its boutique style, unique selections, and friendly informative service has been a recipe for their vino success.

An-always-affable Terry Peel manages the wine selection. You’ll recognize him immediately by his friendly demeanor and shock of gray hair.

This father of five is carefully tuned into his customers. He has been in the wine industry for over 20 years; customers benefit from his experience and his passion for wine and education. Make this man your friend, as he will always steer you right!

Wines are arranged on the walls by country and then by grape (varietal). The center is stacked with value-oriented wines under $10, like white Bordeaux from France and Carmenere from Chile. “People are adventurous drinkers up here,” says Peel. “I try to give them something that is new and exciting while also catering to some familiar tastes as well.”

I see what he means as I look at the selections and see classic Pinot Noir offerings from both California and New Zealand. The adventuress in me is drawn to Berger Zweigelt (a spicy red wine from Austria in a liter bottle for only $14.99) and an organic Falanghina by Ocone (a crisp and minerally white wine from Southern Italy for $16.99).

Peel knows his stuff when it comes to wine. There are over 350 wines in the store that he’s painstakingly vetted, tasted, and selected. Peel says, “A lot of wine portfolios are dropped off, but out of every 100 bottles I taste with sales representatives, less than 10 make it to the shelf.”

He favors a careful ratio of value to price, giving more consideration to smaller boutique and family owned wine producers.

“I want the selection to be concise and yet intriguing and affordable to the customers. I try to change it up all the time and yet hold on to a lot of the customer favorites,” he explains. “I don’t knock the big brands; they just don’t often fit in.”

Clearly what works best at this hands-on wine store are family-run wineries, small and medium sized producers, interesting grape varietals, and customer favorites, and the chance to taste before you buy.

“It’s important that we do tastings for many reasons. The customers can learn a little about a new wine and taste something that they might not try otherwise. Also, the correct food pairing can elevate a wine and change the wine drinking experience completely.”

Peel remembers a Dolcetto from Italy that was OK on its own, but when paired with asiago cheese, it was extraordinary.

With the tastings Peel says, “It doesn’t matter if I sell 1 bottle or 10 bottles. For me, it’s an opportunity to educate and to let someone experience a wine and food pairing where otherwise they wouldn’t have.”

As I was speaking with Peel, a customer walked in looking for a recommendation for a wine to pair with a spicy pork dish. After asking a few more questions to get to know the customer’s palate and preferences, he suggested a Grüner Veltliner from Austria for $12.99.

“The crispness and minerality of this Grüner with just a touch of lime zest will play nicely with the pork,” said Peel.

The customer grinned, bought the Grüner and left very satisfied, as it seems everyone does at Vines on Pine.

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