In the admirable way that master yogi’s prefer to admit that they only practice yoga, (it is the essence of humility that constantly reminds them that there is always something more to learn) it is just as true for sommeliers. Theirs is a never-ending education with new blends, vintages, laws, labels and wineries mushrooming daily all across the globe. To be a sommelier means to be able to discern a wide variety of tastes and help diners distinguish good from great wines. To be a master sommelier means having a comprehensive knowledge of geography, history, law and languages as well as a highly reliable (and remarkable) sense-memory for thousands of different aromas and taste combinations. Not surprisingly there are fewer than 100 master sommeliers in the world today, and one of them comes in the form of the effervescent, charming and unpretentious Laura Maniec – one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40-under-40 and proprietor of the Greenwich Village wine hotspot Cork Buzz Wine Studio.
The 3-in-1 premise behind Cork Buzz is a serious but approachable wine bar, an outstanding kitchen with communal-table dining and a comprehensive and empowering wine school. The high-ceilinged, techy, yet cozy modern space easily accommodates all 3 due to its flexible moving walls and partitions. The staff are all aspiring oenophile protégés and passionate advocates of the predictably deep and varied wine list that extends the premise that a good wine doesn’t necessarily have to be fashionable, popular or expensive. I have spent many an hour at the school and each time I come away with renewed passion and insights for a particular region, country or varietal, or an unexpected food/wine pairing rationale.
Chef Phil Conlon is a big champion of local farmers’ market seasonal ingredients, but even his small plate staples are worth crossing Union Square for. The sweet and chilli spiked Crispy Pork Belly with Red Cabbage Slaw is a borderline-religious experience in tang, crunch and tenderness. The Crispy Potatoes reminiscent of Patatas Bravas are served in a rich duck confit, perfectly paired with the bite of jalapeño aioli for top-end flavor. The Foie Gras Torchon unashamedly embraces the almost dessert-like sweetness of the strawberry-balsamic glaze with the added crunch of pistachios. I always allow the waiters to pair wines with each dish, and their serious consideration and respect for the ingredients is nothing short of adorable.
If I had to choose a wine mentor, it would be Laura Maniec. And if I had to pick a relaxed, fun environment to learn everything about wine, it would be Cork Buzz.