Welcoming guests at the door of Corkbuzz Wine Studio is a dressmaker’s form wearing a corset stitched from wine labels. It epitomizes this approachable place where the curious can learn a little or a lot about wine and enjoy themselves as they do. “We collected labels for the corset all last year,” says owner and master sommelier Laura Maniec. “Winemakers come in and say, ‘Oh there’s my label,’” she quips.
Located around the corner from New York’s Union Square Greenmarket, Corkbuzz is a unique hybrid of wine bar, school and wine-savvy event space. “We originally meant it to be an educational and community center for the wine industry,” says Maniec. But the sommelier and her partner Frank Vafier came to the realization that the concept should include a wine bar as well. “It didn’t make sense to teach a class on the wines of Piedmont, say, and then send students off somewhere else to drink Barolo,” says Maniec. The bar also serves greenmarket-inspired dishes designed by chef Hayan Yi to complement the wines.
A Welcoming Space
Corkbuzz is sleek and elegant, yet warm and inviting. Walls are covered in cream moiré with oak molding and round art deco mirrors. Cylindrical pendant lamps hang over the butcher block-topped bar backed by glittering racks of fine glassware. The round bar stools are covered in a cream colored minimalist plaid. “The place feels like you’re in your living room with your best friend enjoying a glass of wine,” says Maniec.
A floor-to-ceiling, glass-enclosed wine cellar serves as a focal point for the back of the space with seating at communal tables and comfortable, California-modern furniture. The back area is where classes and private events are held. The two classrooms, accoutered with spotlights, A/V projectors and roll-up screens, can accommodate 25 students each, and sliding panels convert it into one large space for larger parties.
“Hosting events and dinner parties is something I love to do, at home and now here as a profession,” exclaims Maniec. Although she concedes there are many event spaces in New York, Corkbuzz sets itself apart by properly sourcing and storing wines, a wine-savvy staff and correct glassware and service. The school’s curriculum is aimed at friends who want to do something a little educational before dinner, learn more about what they like in wine, says the sommelier, as well as professionals looking for more in-depth knowledge about, say, the regions of Burgundy. In addition to frequent wine dinners with guest winemakers and chefs, monthly Sunday Suppers feature a more casual focus on food and wine pairings.
After a sommelier class at Windows on the World, Maniec decided to pursue a career in wine, working her way up at B.R. Guest Restaurant Group to partner and wine and spirits director for the group’s 20 restaurants. In 2009, she earned the master sommelier designation, one of just 18 women who have earned that accreditation. In 2010, Maniec left the company to realize the dream of owning her own place with the opening of Corkbuzz in fall 2011.
The wine bar offers 40 by-the-glass offerings, which rotate often, priced from $9 to $18, with some as high as $40. The list includes about 200 bottles, priced from $34 up to $2,500, but most average $50 to $70. The selection is balanced between offerings from the classic regions with wines from up-and-coming territories. “We’ve got one foot in exploratory, the other in the tried and true,” she quips.
Customers can explore and test themselves at Corkbuzz’s Blind Tasting Happy Hour; every Friday night flights of three wines ($15) are poured blind, with a tasting grid to help with the guessing.
The ingredient-driven food menu changes often. Dishes have included Bacalao-Stuffed, Hand-Cut Fries with Pickled Baby Cucumbers, Duck Ragu Papardelle with Cracklings and Orange Zest Gremolata and Korean-Style Scallion Pancake Fried Oysters. Wine pairings are suggested on the menu.
Maniec is already considering opening another Corkbuzz, in New York or another city. And she’s thinking about writing an approachable Wine 101-type book. A series of short informational wine videos is already in the works.
“Teaching classes is always fun,” she says. “Here at Corkbuzz, with industry friends dropping in often, and meeting new people every night is also encouraging, empowering; I’m never bored.”