The WSJ Loves The Kittle House Wine Cellar and 1/2 Price Chardonnay
This is not only the best wine list in Westchester County, but likely one of the very best in the state.
Kittle House’s wine director and general manager, Glenn Vogt, assembled the sprawling list in two stages. The first was during his tenure in the mid-’90s; the second began in 2008, when he returned to the restaurant to resume his post(s).
While the wine list was impressive in its first incarnation (I visited a few times back then), it has developed into something even more prodigious Mr. Vogt’s second time around. Not only are there all those thousands of selections currently on the list, but another 350 or so wines and some large-format bottles remain unlisted for one reason or another, according to Mr. Vogt. Until a few years ago, the cellar was famously—and, to the minds of many, delightfully—cluttered, so much so that even Mr. Vogt sometimes wasn’t sure what he’d find. It was less professional storage than treasure hunt.
Some famous treasure hunters have turned up some very nice bottles—such as the rare 1970 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Cabernet that musician Steve Winwood snapped up during a cellar tour. (Mr. Winwood liked the wine so much that he hosted some Kittle House staffers at his next concert.)
While the Kittle House has its share of celebrity diners, its customers are more commonly a mix of oenophiles and impassioned locals, like the woman sitting at the table next to me who directed me to “write something nice” about the Kittle House when she saw me taking notes. “We’ve been coming here for years. We love John Crabtree,” she added, naming the proprietor whose family attached its name to the restaurant and inn following the purchase of the Kittle House in 1981.
The Crabtree family restored and renovated the big Colonial house that was originally built in 1790 as a barn for the Ivy Hill Farm. (Earlier owners attached their names to the Kittle House, too; during the 1940s and ’50s it was known as Carlson’s Kittle House.) The Kittle House has also operated as an inn, a roadhouse and even a boarding school.
Today, the Kittle House is an inn with 12 guest rooms, a restaurant that includes a tap room and a formal dining room; it is a special-occasion destination, especially for weddings. (Mr. Vogt estimates that there are about 100 held at Kittle House each year.)
There are also various special menus and deals on different days of the week. The day I visited (a Monday) turned out to be half-price Chardonnay and BYOB night. Happily, I’d managed to time my visit to the cheapest night of the week—which would have been even more exciting if white Burgundy were part of the deal. It was not. “Only California Chardonnay,” said the bespectacled, affable Mr. Vogt.
“But it’s Chardonnay, too,” I protested. “When is half-price white Burgundy night?” Mr. Vogt merely laughed and walked away, saying: “I find that if people want to drink Burgundy, they will drink Burgundy.”
There were a lot of Burgundy temptations—pages and pages of three- and four-figure Montrachets, Chassagne Montrachets and Meursualts, not to mention a lengthy list of Chablis producers that included many vintages of Dauvissaut and Raveneau—as well as that $26 Chablis from Jean Marc Brocard.
But a special deal always holds an allure for me (I actually ordered a bottle of that $26 Brocard last year; it was good). So I thumbed through the 10 pages of California Chardonnays and found more than a few possibilities from star producers such as Dumol (whose 2004 Russian River Chardonnay was $60 at half-price) and Kistler (whose 1999 Les Noisetiers at $65 seemed worth a try), as well as a 2002 Mark Aubert Ritchie Vineyard—a wonderfully decadent Chardonnay from a top producer whose half price of $112.50 was less than retail. But there were so many choices that I decided to put the burden on Mr. Vogt to name his best deal.
He suggested I try either the 2006 Stonestreet Upper Barn Alexander Mountain Estate from Sonoma ($65 half price) or the 2007 Hartford Court Stone Cote Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($75). Both were drinking beautifully, but he had to choose the Hartford Court, a much-acclaimed winery.
The Hartford Court Chardonnay was a big, rich wine: decidedly California in style but not without some grace and restraint. It was delicious—and a perfect match to the John Boy Roast Chicken—from a local purveyor whose first name is actually John Boy (though his last is not Walton).
I returned to the wine list and leafed through the pages of bargain-priced German Rieslings (an entire page devoted to the wines of Muller Catoir and the not-so-bargain-priced Burgundies and Bordeaux) until I reached the section of California Cabernets. There were all the superstar names (Arajuo, Colgin, Bryant Family) at superstar prices (though much less than many restaurants in Manhattan), but there were also more obscure finds like the under-valued but brilliant 1996 Seavey Cabernet ($175) and the 1993 Cathy Corison Cabernet ($95).
Mr. Vogt soon returned. “When is half-price California Cabernet?” I asked. The Seavey, I decided, would be a real steal—though I was plenty tempted by the 2004 Bryant Family Pritchard Hill, half price at $375, a great Napa Cab from a top vintage. Mr. Vogt said he’d let me know.