Interview with Ben Aneff, Managing Partner of Tribeca Wine Merchants

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    22Tribeca Wine Merchants was founded in 2000 with a focus on providing the world’s greatest wines to passionate consumers. Partners Ben Aneff and Robert Groblewski founded the company. Before joining forces, Groblewski spent nearly a decade working in the fine wine business traveling with people like Daniel Johnnes, Doug Polaner, and Tim Kopec. Groblewski fell in love with Burgundy, Piedmont, and the Rhône Valley, but found it difficult to source great older wines. Thus, Tribeca Wine Merchants was founded with that in mind.

    “We really entered this arena out of pure passion, selling the wines we loved, but luck would have it that consumers would start to gravitate more and more to these regions, and to older wines in general,” said Aneff. TWM has built great relationships with long-term collectors from whom they regularly purchase. They also have allocations of current release wines from producers like Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, d’Auvenay and Leroy, Comte du Liger-Beliar, Chave, Guigal, Conterno, and the like. Finally, the place a strong emphasis on finding interesting small producers, from Chapter 24 in Oregon, to Cruse and Rhys in California, to Vodopivec in Italy.

    Aneff spoke further with Coravin about his first time discovering wine, the evolution of the retail business, and his recommendations for discovering Burgundy. 

    Why did you get into the wine retail business?

    I was a classical musician waiting for the season to start and was interested in learning more about wine. My interest level quickly exploded (as often happens with wine) and I was lucky to be in a place that recognized and encouraged it, and exposed me in a remarkable way to the great wines of the world. I still remember when I voiced concern that I didn’t know enough about Piedmont, and I quickly found myself sitting at a table with Mauro Mascarello at Eleven Madison Park, drinking older vintages of Mascarello, Giacosa, and Conterno. It was eye-opening, and really fed the fire.

    Have the interests and needs of your clients changed since opening? Are any wines, regions or styles trending right now?

    There’s no doubt that Burgundy, and more recently the great wines of the Northern Rhône and Piedmont, have caught fire. We were always focused on these wines, but believe it or not, there were years we’d really have to work to sell Dujac, Cathiard, Chave, Conterno and the like. I remember having Rousseau Chambertin 2002 on the shelf for months – unthinkable today. We’d have to convince people that these wines really merited their attention. Only a few collected those wines, with the vast majority of serious collectors focused only on Bordeaux. Now, we may have 10-20 calls for every bottle of many of these wines, even as the prices have soared.

    How has the business of selling wine from a brick-and-mortar in Manhattan changed over the last few years?

    Instagram has been a huge hit for the wine and food world – it’s extremely powerful. We’ve met people interested in great wines this way, and learned about great restaurants in distant parts of the world at the same time! It’s a great tool. Facebook is helpful particularly when allowing you to connect with your local audience. I cannot speak to the pressures of Wine.com, as most of the wines we deal with at all price points are from much smaller producers, that are much less likely to do business with a bulk seller of that nature. And for someone looking for a great bottle for dinner, there really isn’t a better way to solve it than talking to a passionate local wine merchant. I am hopeful that the advantage of expertise and passion we all have will help mitigate the sea of change seen by so many brick and mortar businesses.

    For an educated drinker but novice to Burgundy, whether due to price or fear of its complication, how would you recommend they get started learning?

    Burgundy is tough because it’s just so expensive, and it’s easy to find a bad entry level wine, or at least one that doesn’t show well to a novice. I think it was Jay McInerney who said a great friend never introduces a friend to Burgundy for that very reason. Happily, 2015 is SUCH a good vintage that you can get a super delicious wine from even traditionally humble appellations. Right now, I quite like the Michel Sarrazin Givry 2015 at $25 – a great, traditional Burgundy at less than most good Pinot Noirs from California or Oregon. Faiveley’s Mercury bottlings, both the straight Mercury and the monopole Mercury Framboisier, is a great start in just about any vintage.

    What unsung regions do you like to tell open-minded drinkers about?

    I mentioned Vodopivec earlier, and I really think the whites of Collio in particular, and northeast Italy in general, can be fabulous. Terlano in Alto Adige is another great example. Corsican whites as well can be terrific. I’m a big fan of the Patrimonio from Yves Leccia. For reds, the Languedoc in southern France and Umbria in Italy are both home to some great but lesser known wines.

    What do you like to drink at home?

    My wife’s favorite is white Burgundy, so if we have a single bottle open, it’s most likely a little Mâcon or Chablis. Raveneau when we’re splurging. If I open a red, it will be something I really love. Probably a good Burgundy or an older Barolo. I believe in drinking less, but drinking better. Being in the business, I am careful to limit the number of days I have wine at home, so if I open something, I take advantage of the opportunity and want it to be something I really enjoy.

    What’s the best wine buying trip (or vacation) you’ve been on and why?

    One of my favorite memories is my first trip to the southern Rhône. You’re essentially in Provence, and waking up to the gorgeous views, the air smelling like rosemary and lavender, is such a pleasure. And visiting Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it’s remarkable to see such dramatic and obvious changes of terroir. One vineyard will be covered in small white pebbles, and suddenly the soil changes dramatically to sand, or to large white stones; it’s incredible. There are changes of terroir in Burgundy and Piedmont and elsewhere, but nothing so dramatic. Châteauneuf-du-Pape will have one vineyard so white it looks like it’s snowed, and on a ruler-straight line the soil totally changes in color and makeup. It’s incredible. It’s such a lovely place, and feels like your imagination come to life for what a beautiful French wine region would look like. It’s like stepping into a Cézanne.