Color photo of Chris RudneyBy Claudie Benjamin

Though obviously not to be taken literally, the Italian saying, Anni,e bicchieri di vino non si contano mai, translates as lovers and glasses of wine, these are things that should never be counted, capsulizes what captivated Americans who first traveled in great numbers to Europe after WWII.

On return to the States, one might best try to re-experience the essence of the good life, even on a tight budget, by purchasing a squat bottle of Chianti set in a straw basket. After the bottle was drained, it lived a second life with a candle poked in the top, allowing a colorful cascade of wax drippings to ornament the neck of the bottle and the basket container—romantic, sophisticated, a touch bohemian.

Then, in the 1960s, young people hitchhiking through Europe returned with handwoven bags and an interest in inexpensive Greek wines. Inspiring more joie de vivre in celebration of spring, they took a bottle of German May wine for a picnic near Columbia on a rocky ledge in Riverside Park. A date night in those days on the Upper West Side might include ordering a Whiskey Sour. Options were likely greater in the Hamptons.

In the early 1970s, the media was covering the uncomfortable practice of questioning women who came solo to restaurants if they would be joined by a partner. Today, most of that is gone, but one aspect of this media attention was to encourage people to cook for themselves, set the table, put out a jar of tulips, and, yes, pour a glass of chilled white wine and enjoy their own company. Not to neglect the enjoyment of spirits in the company of friends, the practice of offering wine to friends as they entered your apartment was slowly becoming a common practice. Not long after, Cosmos, Carrie’s favorite drink in TV’s Sex in the City (1998-2004), was trending along with the re-emergence of martinis, though the innovation of handcrafted drinks was still in the future.

Talking about the evolution of wine over the past 30 years he’s been in the wine and spirits business, Chris Rudney, General Manager of Beacon Wine & Spirits at 2120 Broadway, said, “There’s been a dramatic improvement in the quality and variety of wines. Today’s consumers are looking to choose from a selection of wines from many parts of the U.S. and all over the world. The bottom line is how good it tastes.” He added, “A really great wine doesn’t need to come from a particular place, and a knowledgeable sales staff can guide a customer to the right bottle.”

Questions you may bring to Beacon Wine & Spirits are limitless: Yes, to serve Aperol to guests as they arrive for a dinner party – very Italian, but how to serve it so it tastes like you had it on the Amalfi Coast, Rome? Ask a Beacon staff member.

Even a newbie knows sake goes with sushi, yet choosing among twenty different brands of sake at Beacon Wine & Spirits can be daunting. Chris assures that his well-trained, experienced staff will be at your elbow (should you want assistance) to offer advice and on other questions like what makes a really good gift, what’s a good wine to go with cheese, hamburgers, or cheesecake? You know Tequila is very popular these days. But which is the best bet? You can also fill out a form with your preferences online so staff know a bit about your tastes before calling or coming in to order.

Many Upper West Side customers, Chris said, are very well informed, even experts about wine, and are interested in premium and ultra-premium bottles; they still may want to discuss particular questions about certain organic wines and specific vintages or vineyards, here too GM said his staff is prepared to discuss details.

Wine tastings held every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are consistently popular with customers who appreciate the opportunity to sample before purchasing.

Chris has been GM since the store opened in 1992. From the start, he said the idea was not to try to be the best in the world but to be a good, solid neighborhood business with good service and lots of choices. “We’re still here,” he said. That’s saying a lot.”

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