Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ambassador Wine & Spirits: Sake, Shochu & Lots of Wine

New York city has tons of wine stores, and when I visit the city I try to stop my some of my favorites, as well as check out one new to me.  On my most recent trip, I was most intrigued to visit Ambassador Wine & Spirits because they were supposed to have an excellent selection of Japanese sake. I was unsure whether I would have the time to visit the store while I was in New York City, but was able to squeeze in a little time before dinner on Tuesday night. I would have preferred to have more time, but it was sufficient to get a basic sense of the store, as well as to see the wide variety of wines, sake, shochu and spirits they carry.

The store has two floors, and most of the wines are shelved by geographic region. There are easily thousands of wine squeezed onto the shelves, with a good selection of brands, including numerous lesser known and more unique wines. You will also find a fair share of some types of wine here that you often do not find at other wine stores, such as a large collection of wines from Israel, Spanish sherries and shochu. Generally, it is very easy to peruse the shelves, to see what treasures you might discover. 

The downstairs area is a bit fancier, and you'll find a room devoted to Burgundy. You will also find Champagnes, including those of the major houses as well as grower's Champagnes.

There is another downstairs room which holds sherries and ports, including older vintages, such as 1955 and 1960. Their sherry selection is one of the best I have seen in a wine store, including some of the aged sherries (VOS/VORS). If you explore these shelves, I think you will find many treasures.

On the first floor, there is a long set of shelves with Shochu (also known as Soju), a distilled Asian liquor, maybe the largest selection I have seen anywhere. I have only tasted a handful of shochu, and it is a liquor of which I still need more experience. It is an interesting drink, which can be produced from many different ingredients, from sweet potatoes to milk, from rice to buckwheat. In the Boston area, it is difficult to find shochu, and even those stores that do carry it, only have 2-3 bottles.

Their sake selection is stored within a temperature controlled room, keeping the temperature low so the sake remains fresher. That is an excellent idea, and shows their concern for this wonderful drink. They have a good selection of brands, types and bottle sizes, maybe close to 100 different sakes.  Junmai, honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo, nigori, sparkling, and much more. A number of the bottles have shelf talkers, which will help intimidated consumers who know little about sake. If you enjoy sake, then this store will definitely appeal to you.

They also have a good selection of 1.8 liter bottles, party-size bottles, and difficult to find in most wine stores.  One of the most interesting bottles I saw was the Okunomatsu Junmai Daiginjo Formula Nippon Sparkling Sake ($160), probably the most expensive sparkling sake I have ever seen. It was originally designed for Formula Nippon race drivers to spray at the finish line instead of Champagne.

This is an independent wine shop that is worthy of your patronage. Interestingly, they mentioned that their younger customers, ages 25-35, are buying more spirits than wine, and they don't see that changing in the years to come. Because of this, the store has had to stock more spirits than they once did, though they still have plenty of wines, an interesting and diverse selection. The staff was generally very helpful to me, and I think they would be very helpful to all of these customers. On my next trip to NYC, I will make sure to take more time to explore this store.

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