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In the World of Wine, She's 'It'

What would happen if an unattractive, middle-age man opened a wine bar in Manhattan? Probably not much—at least in terms of press coverage. But if a young woman with serious drinking credentials and a closet full of cute dresses did the same thing? If you've followed the buzz around Corkbuzz, you already know the answer. Laura Maniec, the 32-year-old Corkbuzz proprietor, has become the putative "It Girl" of the New York wine scene since she opened her wine bar on East 13th Street some three months ago.


Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal   

Laura Maniec, 32, the proprietor of Corkbuzz on East 13th Street.

Ms. Maniec first won fame at age 29 by becoming the youngest woman in the world ever to be named a Master Sommelier. She was also the wine director of BR Guest restaurant group, a position she held for 10 years before deciding to open a place of her own with a small group of investors, all family and friends.


I asked Ms. Maniec how it feels to be the "It Girl." She took off her shoes and tucked her feet beneath her dress as she settled into one of the sofas at the front of the wine bar. "I hate making statements about myself," replied Ms. Maniec, looking uncomfortable enough to suggest this was true. "But humbly, humbly, humbly I think it' s because I've formed relationships with people over the years. For example, when Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon of Champagne Louis Roederer wanted to hold a tasting of off-vintage Cristal, he called me." Off vintages? That didn't sound like the sort of thing an "It Girl" of wine would be offered, I said. "We also tasted some great vintages," Ms. Maniec conceded.


The Corkbuzz wine bar is open seven days a week and Ms. Maniec has yet to miss a single day. She's on premises about 12 hours every day, which often includes teaching classes in the back of wine bar. The classes started in January and so far topics have ranged from introductory (Wine 101) to Pairing Wine with Takeout Food. Her most recent class, How to Choose a Wine for a Date, took place on Valentine's Day. "Wines that are easy to find and to enjoy," she explained.


I suggested trying a glass of wine from the list. What did Ms. Maniec like—or, in her words, what was she 'crushing on' these days? The 2009 Clos Cibonne Tibouren rosé from Cotes de Provence, she said decisively. "I'm surprised by how much rosé we're selling in the dead of winter. I've ordered nine cases so far." The wine was slightly oxidative, less like a classical rosé than a real cross between red and white in texture and aroma. It was a tad esoteric, like much of the wine list. "This list suggests to me that you really want the drinkers to talk with the staff," I observed, looking over listings such as Botani Moscatel Seco and Ascheri Pelaverga Verduno.


Ms. Maniec looked alarmed. "That's not good. That's not what I want. I don't want someone to have to talk to us if they don't want to. I need to do something about that," she said, picking up a copy of the list for further examination. "I want at least 40% of the wines to be recognizable names," she said, pointing out Chardonnay and Muscadet. "But maybe that's not enough. Maybe it should be 50%."


She related a story about the recent visit by her sister, who lives in Chicago (where the next Corkbuzz may open as early as next year). "My sister loves New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but I didn't have any. I felt bad about that." Her sister had to settle for an Albarino, a white wine from northern Spain. "But I could find some good wines," mused Ms. Maniec. "It wouldn't have to be something obvious like a Marlborough Sauvignon—maybe a wine from Nelson. I have a lot of notes somewhere on some New Zealand Sauvignons that I tasted."


Never mind the credentials or the cute dresses: It's the fact that she truly wants people to be happy when they're drinking wine—whether it's a Spanish Moscatel or a Santa Barbara Chardonnay—that makes Laura Maniec the "It Girl" of wine in New York.





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