Morrell and Divine, two wine destinations familiar to many New York City enophiles, have branched out to new locations, adding to a tide of recently opened Manhattan wine bars. Both Morrells Restaurant and Divine West offer impressive wine selections, albeit in very different settings.
Around the corner from the Ed Sullivan theater (home to David Letterman's late-night high jinks) and a few doors down from the iconic Studio 54, Divine West is not in a neighborhood where you'd expect to find a place that pours half a dozen Sauvignon Blancs by the glass.
With a brasher, brighter interior than the original, Divine West offers a long bar on the first floor and overstuffed couches and chairs scattered on the second. There are a dozen or so tables along the edge of the first-floor room, but the space is better suited to grazing along the bar than to sitting down in the corners. Divine's menu of tapas and dressed-up bar food is designed accordingly.
The wine list is grouped in themed flights such as "Le Fabulous French Whites" and "Merlot, Merlot, Merlot." Flexibility is the key -- each of the more than 50 wines can be ordered by the bottle, glass or 2-ounce taste. The list offers plenty of good values, with scores of appealing wines priced between $8 and $11 a glass, such as the Viña Carmen Merlot Rapel Valley Reserve 2000 (88 points, $8.50) or Neyers Syrah Napa Valley 2000 (90, $11).
Flights like the trio of second labels from châteaus Haut-Brion, Lynch-Bages and Talbot are tempting, but leave something to be desired in the execution. While by-the-glass pours are served in acceptable, all-purpose stems, the flights are served in clunky glasses that do little to flatter the wines within.
In contrast to Divine's new neighborhood, Morrell has chosen to strike out in an area already saturated with well-regarded foodie destinations. Morrell's home base is Rockefeller Center, where Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe does a brisk trade alongside the retail wine shop. The new Morrells Restaurant is within a short walk of Veritas, Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Flute and a host of other notable venues for a glass of vino. The interior of Morrells fits nicely with the neighborhood's high-design aesthetic, as elegant, clean lines and a dining room bathed in mandarin orange create an Asian-accented atmosphere.
Morrells' appealing by-the-glass list includes more than 150 offerings. From adventurous choices like the Fox Creek Vixen McLaren Vale NV sparkling red ($9 for a glass) and Martinelli Gewürztraminer Russian River Valley Martinelli Vineyard 2000 ($11) to safer bets such as the Babich Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2002 (88, $7), even the quirkiest wine drinker can hunt out something to enjoy.
Few of the city's wine bars or restaurants can match the scope of Morrells' high-end offerings by the glass. Luminaries include the Peter Michael Chardonnay Sonoma County La Carrière 2000 ($30), Napanook Napa Valley 1999 (90, $22) and Williams Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2001 ($28).
Morrells' menu wears the wine connection on its sleeve, hence dishes like an appetizer of herb crepes with roasted rabbit and Pinot Noir syrup ($14) and entrées such as Chianti-braised osso bucco ($27) and Cabernet-marinated short ribs ($26). The restaurant also features M Boutique, a small retail space that carries an assortment of decanters, corkscrews and the like.
Clearly, Morrells is a restaurant with wine on the brain. Along with Divine, it provides yet another Manhattan spot where wine lovers can take a frontrow seat to the world of wine.
236 W. 54th St.
New York, NY 10019
Telephone: (212) 265-WINE
Hours: Monday to Friday, noon—after midnight; Saturday and Sunday, 6 p.m.—after midnight
New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (212) 253-0900
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 5:30 p.m.—midnight