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Spotlight on the Cellar

Veritas puts wine center stage

Thomas Matthews
Posted: September 21, 2000

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Spotlight on the Cellar

Veritas puts wine center stage

Some restaurants are built around a star chef or an extravagant design. At Veritas, the wine cellar is the main attraction.

As modest as a speakeasy, Veritas is a small restaurant tucked away on a side street in New York City's Gramercy Park neighborhood. A passerby could easily walk right past or even stop into the small bar without ever suspecting that below the comfortable but unassuming dining room, one of the city's greatest wine collections awaits like the treasures of Ali Baba's cave.

The cellar -- which holds 65,000 bottles and feeds a wine list with 1,425 selections--is the joint creation of owners Park Smith, Steve Verlin and Gino Diaferia, who have pooled their own extensive personal wine collections to supply the restaurant. Because they each sought to satisfy their own tastes, rather than assemble an encyclopedia, the cellar has idiosyncrasies and gaps, but it also has a distinctive personality and depth in areas that most conventional restaurant cellars don't explore.

In the Rhône Valley, for example, a vertical of Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle goes back to 1959, and cult wineries such as Henri Bonneau and Château Rayas show depth into the 1970s. Spain is strong in both new stars (the Priorats of Alvaro Palacios) and old (Vega Sicilia). But the traditional heavy hitters are also in the lineup, with deep verticals of Bordeaux first-growths (Pétrus to 1921) and California Cabernets (Caymus Special Selection to 1981). Red and white Burgundies are another specialty, with a wide range of top producers in the best vintages.

"Wine is the No. 1 priority in this restaurant," Kopec says. "Everyone orders wine. Most order multiple bottles. And they all want to talk about it." Because Veritas lets wine take the spotlight, the restaurant has become a mecca for wine buffs. It's not unusual to see magnums of great wines pass from table to table, prompting strangers to become friends. It's proof that a restaurant can be serious about wine without being snobby and that great wine goes a long way towards building an outstanding dining experience.

--Thomas Matthews

43 E. 20th St., New York, 10003
Telephone (212) 353-3700
Wine selections 1,425
Number of bottles 65,000

For the complete article, please see the Sept. 30, 2000, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 76.

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