Located on a quiet, tree-lined stretch of 30th Avenue just a few blocks down from the neighborhood’s stable of bustling open-air cafés, Off The Vine is a welcome addition to the community that’s been generating some serious buzz since opening its doors in July of 2008.
The wine shop boasts an impressive selection, literally floor to ceiling, of artisanal wines in 20-plus varieties from across the globe. You’ll find Croatian Malvazija alongside varietals from Chile and the Finger Lakes region — all for about $15 a bottle or less. On September 24-26, Off the Vine will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a three-day tasting bash.
Here, it’s go small or go home. Most items in stock come from small vineyards that only produce 8,000 cases of wine per year, and that’s exactly what owner John Paul Bucich, an Astoria native, strives for.
“I’m very, very selective,” Bucich said. “I just think you get a better product. The smaller, the better. I’ve had it with the big names. There are enough liquor stores in the neighborhood selling mass produced brands, which I refuse to carry. Would you rather pay $10 for an okay wine or $11 for a really good one?”
Bucich said he left his family business to pursue his passion for wine and his desire to bring something unique to the neighborhood. “I needed a change and was in the right place at the right time,” said Bucich, he opened the store with his wife Angela.
The couple transformed the cozy corner location, which was formerly occupied by a gloomy liquor store, into a charming, cheery space that attracts young newcomers and lifelong residents alike. The free, bi-monthly wine tastings have spawned a cool local scene and a devoted following on the popular neighborhood website whyleaveastoria.com.
“It gets a little chaotic, which I enjoy because everybody doesn’t just come to taste,” Bucich says. “They talk to each other or meet their neighbor they haven’t seen in four months and chitchat here. It’s great.”
Most tastings are on Fridays, but Bucich likes to keep all of his loyal patrons in mind.
“We have a lot of [restaurant] servers in the neighborhood and a lot of them are off on Wednesday or Thursday nights so I try to do something for them once in a blue moon,” he said.
He also invites new eateries in the area to bring in samples for everyone to nibble while they sip.
“We try to help out whoever is new in the neighborhood,” he said. “Whatever they want to bring is fine by me. The more places that open up over here, the more people will flock [here], especially to this side of Steinway. I don’t want to see places close.”
You don’t have to be a serious wine connoisseur to feel at home at Off The Vine. Bucich delights in the challenge of helping his patrons find the wine that best suits their tastes. Just walk in and tell him what you’re having for dinner. He’ll have a pairing recommendation for you within minutes — and it’s not easy to throw him a curve ball.
From Indian to Thai to Italian or even African cuisine, Bucich lets his seasoned palate and years of restaurant experience do the work. “Just give me two seconds to get my taste buds together,” said, with a grin.
How about mussels?
“The Falanghina from Italy,” he suggests without hesitation. “It’s the best white wine you can have with any kind of mollusks. It blends much better with the essence of the sea.”
And, rest assured, he’ll present a bottle that’s already chilled for you to take home.
Off The Vine Wine & Spirits,
4421 30th Ave. (@ 45th St.),
(718) 728-4142 website
If You Go, What You Should Know
• The anniversary party tastings are tentatively scheduled for Thursday, September 24, 5 to 8 p.m.; Friday, September 25, 6 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, September 26, 2-5 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.
• It’s a dog friendly store. Bring your pooch and get a free dog treat, which Bucich always keeps on-hand near the register. (“We love doggies! Nobody should ever leave their dog outside our store.”) You might even meet Layla, his beloved Eurasier pup.
• There is also a small selection of liquors. Pick up a bottle of Chambray Green Tea Vodka for $32. Bucich plans to include more artisanal brands in the fall.
• Check out the neighborhood website Whyleaveastoria.com for upcoming Off The Vine events, discounts and wine lovers groups.
• Can’t find what you’re looking for? Off The Vine may order it for you.
Other Neighborhood Hot Spots
Although it’s often considered a more residential area, the businesses along 30th Avenue, east of Steinway Street are some of the best-kept secrets in the ‘hood. Here are our top picks:
Let the delicious scent of freshly baked bread and the inviting laughter of patrons sipping espresso outside guide you to this amazing, no-frills spot. It’s one of the most authentic Italian bakeries in Astoria. Grab a baguette or pick up a box of mouth-watering pastries. The rum-soaked cannoli cake, creamy ricotta cheesecake and Sfogliatellel are divine.
(4417 30th Ave., 718-274-8959)
Sorriso Italian Pork Store
Walking into this neighborhood mainstay is like stepping back into time. It’s the last of a dying breed of family delis in Astoria but is, thankfully, still going strong. The charming Old World atmosphere and stunning variety of deli meats, imported Italian goods and homemade pastas are sure to get your tummy grumbling. Don’t leave without sampling the fresh mozzarella and spicy cured sopressata — both are made on-site and worth the trip alone.
(4416 30th Ave., 718-728-4392)
Bistro Les Minots
Why travel all the way to France? This new eatery brings a taste of Provence to Astoria. The rustic décor and classic French fare are impressive. Oversized bowls of Mussels are prepared four different ways and served with a heaping pile of delicious frites. The popular brunch menu and 3-course prix fixe lunch/dinner special ($19.95!) are incredibly tasty— and easy on the pocketbook. Bon appetit!
(47-16 30th Ave., 718-606-2535; website)
This cozy and inviting Irish pub is an Astoria institution that’s chock full of dusty bric-a-brac, thirsty locals and incredible bartenders. There’s always a great selection of beers on tap, impressive buybacks and $2 recession specials. It also happens to be a favorite haunt of Shane MacGowan (front man of notorious Irish band The Pogues), who’s been known to stop in for a few pints after NYC shows.
(45-02 30th Ave., 718- 204-8435; website)