Editor's note: We tell you every day about where we're eating in New York, but we want to share where we're drinking, too. Serious Eats editor and wine and beer writer Maggie Hoffman kicks off the first edition of Where We Drink.
Anfora is not a wine bar I'd recommend to everyone. If you like wine as the background music to a nice meal, and you're happiest with your regular Shiraz, you may be turned off by a wine list with nearly nothing you recognize. But if you're a little tired of everyday sipping and you want wine to surprise you—if you're willing to get a little dirty and a little funky, if you like your cheeses smelly, your chocolate salty, and your palate stretched a bit—then Anfora is the wine bar for you.
Joe Campanale's six-month old bar isn't meant for kids, though he practically is one at 26. The black leather banquettes are not quite cushy (though the exposed-brick wall and warm lighting helps the room feel less austere.) The music alternates between lively and sultry, but the din's just a little loud for any sort of romance to be taking place.
Except, of course, your romance with the wine. Campanale seeks out artisanal wines made by producers who avoid using chemicals in the process. His list includes his personal favorites, like the fascinating, terroir-driven wines from the slopes of Mt. Etna and the Canary Islands. He features a few that are aged in the anfora for which the bar is named (these are terra-cotta clay pots that were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to store and age wine). Campanale also likes to offer a few wines from the same producer, giving his customers the chance to understand a single producer's style better. He claims that it's not just a bar for industry folk and wine geeks (though plenty of those do stop by), it's also just New Yorkers seeking a low-key spot to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail.
We started with a remarkably rich Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Les Gras Moutons (2009, $13). It was mineral-driven, herbal, and so lusciously smooth you might not recognize it as Muscadet. The Lopez Heredia Gran Reserva Rosado Rioja "Viña Tondonia" (2000, $15) is beloved among wine geeks. This slightly oxidative wine is nutty yet fresh, evocative of roses, peaches, and strawberries dipped in caramel, with a toastiness (and hint of marzipan) supported by delicate acidity. It's the perfect wine to linger over as the weather gets cold.
The showstopper, though, was the Coda di Volpe "Sophia" Cantina Giardino from Campania, Italy (2007, $16). This wine spent a year on the skins in the anfora, and was being served from a magnum around room temperature. This giving, slightly smoky wine is nearly brown in the glass, unfiltered and rich with notes of apple skins and nut butter. It's a wine that demands and rewards your attention. When asked about it, Campanale lights up: this is what he's here for, to share weird and wonderful wines that he's excited about, and to pour you something you may not find anywhere else in the city.
That's not to say there's nothing approachable on the list. Jean-Paul Brun's Beaujolais is delicious and easy-drinking, with bright acidity and juicy plum, raspberry, and licorice notes.
It can be a little confusing to figure out who's going to take your order, but once you do, be sure to ask for a plate of the spicy chorizo and avocado crostini. Charcuterie platters are served with excellent marinated olives and sweet pickle slices. Cheeses come with honey, grainy mustard, and a sweet-spicy mostarda with raisins. Skip the rather uninspiring Taleggio, and go for the fantastic creamy goat cheese from Haystack Mountain in Colorado. There are sandwiches, too, and they're good (though some complain that the scent of them cooking can be a bit overwhelming in the small space). I never really mind.
"What's good?" a friend asks as he bellies up to the bar next to me, pointing at the wine list. It depends, I say, on what you want. "Are you up for something weird?" I ask. "The weirder the better," he answers. I assure him he's found the right place.