Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How to Start Your Own Wine Shop - Part II

Part II of our interview with Alyssa Becker, owner of Brooklyn wine shop, Donna Da Vine.

SwirlSavvy: When did you open the shop?

Alyssa: We opened halloween of 2008. I couldn't have picked a better day of the year. People love to let loose and enjoy themselves on Halloween and my neighborhood is so great about coming together and enjoying as a community. For our 1 yr anniversary this year we'll be having a killer tasting to mark the occassion.

SS: What were some of the initial challenges?

A: The hardest part for me was getting the liquor license. It's a long process and you never know until your finally called before the commission, about a 6-8month process(and that's a conservative estimate) whether or not they'll grant you a license. It's a nerve wracking situation...but lucky for me people on the commission saw my vision and knew that I would be an asset to the neighborhood and granted me my wine license. THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SS: What's challenging now?

I think what's always a challenge for me is sticking to that initial vision. When customers come in they have all kinds of special requests, suggestions...etc, and I love to hear them because it helps me give them what they need. But the hardest part of my job day in and day out is staying true to my vision, my taste (which is really off the beaten track-and what brought the customers into my shop in the first place) and balancing that with what customers really want and what makes them happy. Every day it's a juggling act, but with 400+ frequent buyers on my list it seems like I'm making it work. And I hope to continue to keep that balance between the wines I love and the needs of my customers.

SS: What do you like best about running a neighborhood wine shop?

A: What else...the neighborhood, and the people in it. I love knowing pretty much every customer that walks in the store- their kids names, their dogs names and what the last bottle of wine they purchased was . I grew up in brooklyn and I've chosen to raise my family here in Boerum Hill - I love being an integral part of the neighborhood and sharing my first love with the people who live here.

SS: If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

A: Nothing else worth matter what I would have found a way to do this.

SS: How many hours a week do you work?

A: 24/7. Owning your own place is beyond a full time job, Even if I'm not at the store- I'm out tasting wine, updating our website or placing orders with my distributors (usually while I'm trying to entertain my 5 month old). But I wouldn't have it any other way.

SS: What advice do you have for others who dream of owning their own wine shop?

A: Patience is key when starting your own business...especially a wine shop. It's a lengthy process so don't lose faith. And drink a lot of good wine along the way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Start Your Own Wine Shop - Part I

Do you dream of owning your own neighborhood wine shop where you know all the customers by name and can pick out the perfect bottle for them because you know their tastes. The picture is completed by your chocolate labrador lounging peacefully behind the front desk. Learn what it really takes to turn that dream into reality with SwirlSavvy's two-part interview with Alyssa Becker, owner of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn wine shop, Donna Da Vine.

SwirlSavvy: What did you do before starting a wine shop?

Alyssa: Believe it or not I was a corporate bond trader on wall street for 4 years and then went to work for Bloomberg's financial technology firm for 8 yrs. I didn't really take the most direct route to opening a shop, but I'm not going to lie, being surrounded by a couple of thousand bottles of wine is a heck of a lot more fun.

SS:What's the philosophy or style of Donna Da Vine?

A: I'm all about small production, unusual wines. Strange the beaten path regions....vineyards no ones ever heard of ... wines with production of less than 100 cases..if it's something funky and delicious I'll bring it in. Of course I'll always carry a chilean sauvignon blanc, or a california cab, but my babies are the diamonds in the rough...the dark horses of the wine world that most people don't know about. That's where my heart lies.

SS: How did it get that name?

A: I was looking to name the shop after my mom, donna, since she was the one who inspired me to really go out and do something I loved for a living. And my husband came up with donna da vine because it means woman of the vine in italian...we thought it was fitting.

SS: What kind of wine experience did you have before starting your own shop?

A: I have come to wine in kind of a roundabout way. I took my first wine class for my 21st birthday with a man named Willie Gluckstern ("the wine avenger") and I fell in love...with wine,not Wilile :). From that point on every opportunity I had for a vacation meant me traveling to a wine region to taste(everywhere from tuscany to tasmania). I took classes at the IWC ( certificate and advanced cert classes), took classes at UC davis, moonlighted evenings and weekends at a wine shop on the upper east side and at vineyards in napa and sonoma. I was fortunate enough to befriend some winemakers from the barossa who allowed me to work part of harvest with them, as well as with some fine people out in california. I did this all while working a full time job. When my mom passed away 2002 it was the catalyst for me to leave wall street and make my love my profession.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Local, Artisanal & Seasonal Chocolate

When you think of local and seasonal, CSAs and vegetables of the moment come to mind (beets currently, right?). Rarely do chocolate and candy treats dive into this realm. Enter Liddabit Sweets. Their selection of Candy Bars, Honeycomb Candy, Jellies, Lollipops and Caramels changes seasonally based on the fruit and fit of the season.

"The King" (pictured right) a brown-butter cookie with peanut butter nougat and fresh banana/milk chocolate ganache will be featured at the Swirl Events Dessert & Wine Tasting on September 23rd from 7-9 in NYC. Tickets are still available here. Treats from Liddabit Sweets taste delicious and also support local farmers. So now, you can remove the "guilty" in the phrase "guilty pleasure."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eco-Friendly Cookies with a Buttery Chardonnay

To be more environmentally friendly, I buy organic grapes and berries, but I never thought about where my Mint Milanos were coming from or what impact they were making. Call me a convert, because going forward, I'll choose Organic Almond Cookies from Gotham Cookies. Gotham Cookies is so new to market their website is still being developed but SwirlSavvy has the scoop for you early...and a way to taste them before they're widely available. Swirl Events will be featuring the Organic Almond Cookies (and perhaps their brownies!) at our Dessert & Wine Pairing Tasting Event on September 23rd. Tickets are going fast so check them out here. I'm thinking of pairing these organic, deliciously buttery cookies chock full of real almonds with a buttery Chardonnay with lots of peace and melon flavors. Have any suggestions? Leave a comment below.

Gotham Cookies offers a variety of gourmet bakery products that environmentally-conscious consumers will go ga-ga over! From organic ingredients to biodegradable packaging, Gotham Cookies strives to create luscious baked pieces of heaven with a minimal effect on the environment. Now you can say you're helping to save the environment when you down that second cookie. Come try them - and baked goods from 5 other independent, artisanal, local bakers - first hand on September 23rd. Tickets are $35.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fudge Brownies Paired with Zinfandel?

The Swirl Events Dessert & Wine Pairing Tasting Event on September 23rd continues to gain steam. I'm so happy to feature my favorite brownies, Sweet Muse which I think I'll be pairing with a rich, jammy dark Zinfandel like Crauford. I'm a purist, so creator Laura Siner's Fudge Brownies are the ultimate chocolate treat for me, but Sweet Muse has over 12 flavors of brownies and now makes the most adorable, bite sized Brownie Buttons

which come in a box of a dozen. The most original Sweet Muse offering is their full-size brownies which can come individually wrapped and include a quote in the wrapping that can be customized for your occasion. Wouldn't this make a very special and personalized wedding favor with a favorite quote from the couple on love or something about their big day? So much better than those candy coated almonds that serve better in a vicious food fight or linger at the bottom of your purse in the occasion you ever become that hungry...not that it's ever happened...I'm just sayin'

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ever

Usually, I stick with speaking about wine. But if there's one other topic I'm passionate about, it's cookies. And I think I just discovered the world's best chocolate chip cookies - so I must share it. WannaHavaCookie is a local, independent and artisanal cookie maker that hand-mixes its cookies in small batches. We will be featuring her cookies at our Dessert & Wine Tasting Event September 23rd. After speaking with (P)Resident Baker Marisa Angebranndt about her secret (which she's not giving up, btw) I learned that it took her years to perfect the recipe and that it was the first recipe she worked on. What's so great about these chocolate chip pieces of perfection? The outside has a slight crispiness to it while the inside is still moist and chewy. There's a balance between sweet milk chocolate and a deeper dark chocolate. It also stands up well to being dunked into a big glass of milk.

Outside of having perfected this classic, WannaHavaCookie is known for their handmade Whoopie Pies. Whoopie Pies transport you back to your childhood and the more readily available 'Moon Pies' that don't seriously equate themselves with these satisfactory bites. The Whoopie Pies come in more than 15 different flavors. And in their adorable packaging, I think they'd make wedding guests happy at the end of the night. Just bring along plenty of milk.

Don't fret if you aren't in NYC, WannaHavaCookie ships nationwide. Now, back to more important things like trying this snickerdoodle...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chocolate Covered Bacon & Truffles and...WINE?

We can't wait to attempt this pairing. Swirl is partnering with Roni-Sue's Chocolates, famous for their "Pig Candy," crispy fried bacon strips, dipped in either milk or dark chocolate. We're going to attempt to pair wine with their unbelievable chocolate truffles - of which they have over 20 varieties - at our September 23rd Artisanal Dessert & Wine Pairing Event. What wine do you think pairs with chocolate covered fried bacon? And what about pomegranate dark chocolate truffles? Send over your suggestions. And buy tickets here:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Love Dessert & Wine? Who doesn't - this Event is for you!

My company, Swirl Events, is partnering up with 6 different independent, local, artisanal dessert makers and pairing them with wine from around the world. Learn a little about each of the partners below - you're forewarned...this will make you crave cookies, candy, chocolate, brownies... BUY TICKETS HERE (LAST EVENT SOLD OUT IN 3 DAYS!):

Roni Sues logoSweet Muse logoliddabits sweets logowannahavacookie logo

Roni-Sue's Chocolates - The finest and freshest ingredients artfully crafted into a selection of homemade truffles, our critically acclaimed honey & tea lollipops, caramels, seasonal specialties and of course buttercrunch-our signature candy. Come watch us make our candies on-site at the historic Essex Street Market on the LES!

Sweet Muse celebrates the creative, playful spirit in all of us with freshly baked treats to indulge the senses and inspire. Specializing in rich, fudgy brownies, and offering over a dozen flavors, Sweet Muse bakes from scratch using only the finest ingredients. Brownie tins and boxes perfect for personal and corporate gift-giving can be shipped throughout the US or hand delivered within Manhattan.

Gotham Cookies is an organic bakery specializing in gourmet cookies and brownies.

Liddabits Sweets specializes in handmade candy bars, lollipops, fruit jellies, and other sweets made with the finest locally sourced ingredients. We live and work by our motto -- Local, Artisanal, Seasonal!

WannaHavaCookie specializes in small-batch cookies, bars and whoopie pies baked fresh to order, and we ship nationwide. Packaging available in classic bakery boxes, premium gift tins or party platters. Because you know you "wanna hava cookie"!

Gourmetibles seven delicious flavors of the best tasting confection to be created in years. Our gourmet snacks have been described as "too good to share" and "so good they're evil". People who try it usually buy it, those who buy it can't seem to get enough.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dessert & Wine Pairing Tasting Event - Sept 23rd

If you loved our Cupcake & Wine Tasting or missed it (but heard how much fun we had!) join us on September 23rd for an even bigger, tastier event.

Swirl Events (, the wine tasting party company with a fresh, hip approach, and six different artisanal sweets makers from NYC present a Wine and Artisanal Dessert Pairing Tasting Event on September 23rd. Mingle with other dessert and wine lovers as you taste through each sweet and wine duo and debate the merits of pairing dark chocolate pomegranate truffles and caramel brownies with a spicy, smokin' Shiraz between decadent bites.

What: Taste 6 different varieties of desserts from independent, local artisanal dessert makers including Sweet Muse, Roni-Sue's Chocolates, Liddabit Sweets, Gourmetibles, Gotham Cookies and WannaHavaCookie paired with sparkling, white and red wines from around the world lead by Swirl Events' wine pros.

When: Wednesday, September 23rd, 7-9 PM

Where: AVEvenue NYC 15 W. 28th St. between Broadway & 5th Ave. ; (R/W to 28th St. stop)

How much: $35

Buy tickets here:

For More Info Email: OR Call: 917.463.3994

Tickets are limited and not available at the door. The last event DID sell out within a few days.

Event is co-sponsored by AVEvenue.

Dessert and wine - who could resist?!

How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

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