"Awful" wine sparked career of NYC wine guru Zraly

Tue Sep 6, 2011 5:32am EDT
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kevin Zraly was offered a bottle of wine that survived the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, but he didn't even want to see it.

"It's quite possible that some bottles survived," said the former wine director of Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower. "But I didn't want to look. I told him: 'keep it. It's yours.'"

The man who has taught squadrons of sommeliers and companies of cellar masters; who is known for his ready laugh and good stories is silent. His blue eyes stare at a glass of Sancerre.

It's been 10 years since the attacks. "I never, ever call it an anniversary," he said. "Anniversaries are celebrations."

His wine primer "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course," which has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, is Zraly's way of honoring the more than 70 of his colleagues who died on Sept 11, 2001.

He started the six-week course almost by chance, having been asked "to put something together" for what was then, in 1976, a private lunch club at Windows. It became so popular it was opened to the public in 1980. More than 19,000 people graduated.

Zraly grew up in a home that didn't serve wine. But in 1970 he was a college student at SUNY New Paltz, about a 90-minute drive north of New York City, who was looking for "beer money" and took a bartending job a local restaurant. Shortly after he started, the top restaurant critic for the New York Times gave the place a 4-star review.

A customer who had traveled from Manhattan to the restaurant specifically after the review appeared, complained the wines were awful. "We offered wine - red and white," he laughed.   Continued...