Great wine, as they say, starts in the vineyard, and the most basic translation of “cru” is, in fact, “vineyard,” generally one of superior quality. So it would be fair to say that great wine in New York starts at Cru, the latest restaurant to occupy the often-changing space that is 24 Fifth Avenue.
Built on the solid and extensive collection of part-owner Roy Welland, Cru sports a list of about 3,500 bottles; the collection is so large that much of it is stored off-site in New Jersey. Although prices ascend into the 5-digit range for some well-aged rarities, there is also a good selection of wines for under $100. If the list on the whole seems expensive, it’s not because of a gouging markup; it’s because the wines are that hard-to-find, and that good.
Of course, negotiating your way through two three-pound wine tomes (one for white, one for red) can be daunting, especially if you’re trying to match your selection with chef Shea Gallante’s menu. Fortunately Wine Director and part-owner Robert Bohr has assembled a team that’s ready to help.
Robert himself entered the restaurant business at a young age – 13 – but it was only while working his way through NYU at Gramercy Tavern that he decided that wine was more interesting than becoming a lawyer. After building up his skills as a wine captain there, he started as a sommelier at Babbo the day it opened, and there he began to learn the practicalities of running a wine program – inventory, dealing with sales reps, pricing, etc. Specializing in Italian wines in what was then a French-dominated scene gave him a way of standing out.
It was later, while working at Colina, that Robert met Alex Miranda. According to Alex, “Robert came up to me one night with a glass of wine and said, ‘What do you think this is?’ and I said, “Oh, it’s Burgundy. Meursault.” Alex had grown up drinking California wine; a mentor at San Francisco’s Zuni Café then turned him on to Old World wines. It was after Robert had pointed out his strength as a taster that his interest became a passion. He sought out work at restaurants with great wine lists, and after time at Babbo and The Tasting Room he landed the Wine Director gig at Verbena. He met John at Blue Hill, and they worked together at Sotheby’s short-lived restaurant, Bid.
In 1996, John had decided that med school was not for him, and lied his way into a restaurant job in Boston. The MW who trained the staff there broke wine down to its basic components; John says, “He made it very simple: it’s just acid, alcohol, tannin, and sugar. Places and grapes.” Building his skills in wine sales also built up his check average. Eventually he made a New Years Resolution: to get a job in the wine business by the end 2000; March found him working at Blue Hill, where he met Robert a dinner his first week there. Robert became his go-to man for wine business questions, and Robert began sharing with him the very skills he had started developing at Babbo.
Eventually Robert tapped Alex and John to join him at Cru. They offer a unified front in that their preferences suit the winelist; the Old World dominates, especially Burgundy, with Piedmont, German and Austrian whites, and the Rhone valley also looming large. However, with three different personalities to guide you and a list of such depth, the restaurant bears repetition; there are many routes to a great wine experience at Cru.