When John Sarofeen was 22 — just barely old enough to legally drink — he tore into a Christmas present and found, to his delight, a case of wine.
In a photo taped to a support beam near the cash register at his wine shop, Grape Expectations in Tarrytown, you can see a young, smiling Sarofeen, surrounded by wrapping paper, inspecting what appears to be a bottle of Finger Lakes riesling.
“So I have proof that the interest was there early on,” he says, holding the photo and chuckling.
John, pictured above with his Wine Director Jairo Triguero, will be sharing that interest and expertise with us over the next three months. Sarofeen is our wine expert-in-residence for Fall 2014. For the next 12 Wednesdays in Life&Style, he’ll choose our lohud Wine of the Week and include tasting notes and suggestions for pairings. (His first recommendation is A to Z, a rosé from Oregon.)
We’ll also feature the wines on social media using #lohudfood, so you can follow along and ask Sarofeen your own questions. At the end of the 12 weeks, we’ll review our Mixed Case and recap his choices.
And we’ll turn to Sarofeen for suggestions for pairing wines with fall meals. We’ve already asked him to start thinking about Thanksgiving. (I know. We were just as shocked to ask about it as you are to read it.) We’re sure he’ll come up with some great bottles to go with the bird. He’s thinking American wines are appropriate.
This winter, Sarofeen will celebrate 15 years as owner of Grape Expectations, which has been a leader in innovative design, selection and presentation.
Nowadays, you’re more likely than not to find a wine shop that’s clean and well-organized, with an inventory of boutique bottles. But when he opened, there weren’t a lot of good-looking stores around. “A lot of neighborhood liquor stores just had cases piled up,” he says.
But Sarofeen and his partners at the time (he’s since bought them out) wanted something different.
They came up with “The Wall,” birch paneling around the store punctuated with porthole-like openings for bottles, which are grouped by style: Bubbly; Crisp and Refreshing; Clean and Bright; Soft and Lush; Ripe and Smooth; Round and Voluptuous; Full and Spicy. Other wines can be found on wooden shelves in the center of the room, and a big wooden bar holds his excellent selection of summer rosés.
His customers says they love the way he “curates” the wines, he says. It makes it easy to shop. “I have a little saying: ‘You work to earn your money, you shouldn’t have to work to spend it.”
Sarofeen grew up in the Finger Lakes — Auburn — and started his career as a bartender at the Holiday Inn there. He moved to New York City and spent the first half of his career working at Caroline’s Comedy Club, all three locations. (Both on stage as a comedian, and as a manager.)
Today, Sarofeen and his wife, Christina, and their two children — Caitlyn, 11; and John, 9 — live less than a mile from the store, and John commutes by bicycle. “We’re really integrated in the community,” he says.
And the community shops there. At $200 for the costliest bottle in the store (an Opus One cabernet sauvignon), it’s not an expensive place to shop. Most bottles are between $15 and $25.
“People come here that have wine cellars,” says Sarofeen. “And they come here to find wine to drink.”
They might choose a California chardonnay made by the rock band Train, Calling All Angels, which at $10.99 is one of the best values in the store, Sarofeen says.
“Nowadays in the wine world, marketing and wine making have kind of been separated,” he says. “So you get a lot of value here because they’re doing the marketing. But for $10.99 it tastes a lot more expensive. It has that creaminess that they used to have.”
Or a $14 Domaine de Dionysos Cotes du Rhone, which is among the best sellers at the store.
Cotes du Rhones are balanced, says Sarofeen. “You cover more area with one wine. They’re medium bodied, not too heavy, not too light. They’re drier so they’re more food friendly; and they’re not expensive.”
Or, or, or? Sarofeen is bubbling with more recommendations, and he’ll share them over the next 12 weeks. After all, he says, “the easiest way to change your day is to change your wine.”
If you go: Grape Expectations, 92 Broadway, Tarrytown. 914-332-0294, 123wineave.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.