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'Vino-Versity' Teaches Wine Basics to Budding Oenophiles in Yorkville

By Claire Oliver | August 26, 2013 8:51am
 Vino-Versity Wine store at 1657 First Avenue sells wines from boutique wineries and offers ongoing wine classes to help educate amateurs and connoisseurs alike.
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YORKVILLE — Wine lovers, get ready to get schooled.

Vino-Versity, a "educational wine store" on First Avenue near East 86th Street is cultivating a new crop of oenophiles — no prior knowledge required.

Co-owners Shari Schneider and Michael Vitanza, restaurateurs who ran two locations of the shuttered Divine Bar in Midtown, opened the 1657 First Ave. shop two years ago to help take the snootiness out of wine shopping.

“We target and draw in rookies and intermediates,” said Schneider, who lives on the Upper West Side and calls herself a “highly trained alcohol professional.”

“People either know next to nothing or need a cohesive connecting of the dots,” she added, saying people are often hesitant to spend money on new wines in case they end up disappointed.

Vino-Versity's rotating weekly lineup of evening courses covers subjects such as organic wines, Italian reds, sparkling wines and wine and cheese pairings. 

Vino-Versity, which has a liquor and sparkling wine cellar downstairs and a glass-walled classroom in the back, categorizes its bottles using cards that are color-coded by price and describe where the wine is from, who makes it, what it tastes like and what to pair with it. The goal is to take the guesswork out of purchasing wines and help people discover their own palates, Schneider said.

The store’s classroom can accommodate as many as 18 students at a time — “big enough to have a good energy,” Schneider said — and each class features flights of eight wines.

The shop is stocked with wines from lesser-known boutique wineries and vineyards — chosen for their flavors, not their brand names. Schneider said people's focus on a certain brand often keeps them in a wine-drinking rut.

“We’re trying to break that habit,” she said.

While Vino-Versity carries some higher-caliber vintages, nearly all wines in the store are priced under $100.

“We’re not here to sell collectibles or fine wines,” Schneider said.

The shop hosts free daily tastings from 4 to 7 p.m., giving them quick samples of four to five wines. The tastings’ themes change monthly and often relate to upcoming holidays, Schneider said. In October, for example, Vino-Versity might feature Spanish or Italian wines for Columbus Day.

For more in-depth training, customers can reserve spaces for lectures and tasting events taught by Vino-Versity's instructors as well as industry professionals, including "Destination" events that focus on a certain country or region's wine. The classes cost $35 to $45 per person.

“You can see patterns of flavor that emerge from wines from a region,” Schneider said.

To take part in one of Vino-Versity’s courses or tasting events, Schneider recommends reserving a spot a week in advance. For more information, call (212) 860-6600.