Justin Chearno of Brooklyn’s The Four Hourseman on Chilled Reds and N/A Wines - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Justin Chearno of Brooklyn’s The Four Hourseman on Chilled Reds and N/A Wines

To document the wine career of Justin Chearno, wine director and co-owner of Brooklyn’s The Four Horsemen, is to chronicle the evolution of natural wine in New York City. A musician in search of a paying gig back in 2002, Chearno landed at a scrappy little wine shop in Williamsburg called Uva, a spot he describes as “the first place in the neighborhood that didn’t have bullet-proof glass.” While there, he developed a taste for the (at the time “more esoteric”) wines of the Loire Valley and it was off to the races.

Always a few steps ahead of the curve, Chearno was one of the pioneers of the natural wine scene back when it was still considered fringe. More than a decade later, he and his partners opened The Four Horsemen, which is now in its ninth year of operation. It has, from the jump, been a destination for those seeking an expansive, inventive list that champions the wines Chearno and his friends love to drink—primarily French and Central European bottles carefully sourced from producers who prioritize non-interventionist vinification methods. It’s also racked up its share of accolades, from a Michelin star to a James Beard Award. Rather than being beholden to market demand, Chearno creates the demand, though the masses occasionally take a few years to catch up.

Overall, Chearno says 2023 saw wine sales staying more or less the same, though non-alcoholic quaffs as a category have become major players.  For the first time ever, chilled red wine overtook skin-contact wine, which for its part had all but replaced rosé in popularity. —Lauren Gitlin

Justin Chearno

What new category did you add this year that you think got a lot of traction?

Chilled red. It’s the biggest thing for people I talk to in my wine world, it’s the biggest seller. Certainly we don’t sell rosé at all anymore. That was kind of taken over by orange wine. I probably bought two or three rosés last year, maybe less. We tried it by the glass and it just died. But chilled red actually overtook orange for the first time since we’ve been open as a sales category. Somebody wrote about it somewhere. It’s the most basic, “I love Barbie” kind of woman that comes in and is like, “Can I get a chilled red?” The same people that thought our cellar-temperature wines were too cold two years ago now ask for them to be colder. We’ve always drunk our red chilled, you know what I mean? That’s just always the way we served it. Fifty-eight degrees, cellar temp. Now, if we just say it’s chilled, it’ll sell.

What other beverage categories have impacted the sale of wine in your restaurant?

Non-Alcoholic is huge. Massive. In the last couple of years it’s gotten very, very big.

Are these things that are house-made?

No, no we’re buying it. There’s a lot of crap and we have to weed through it, but we buy a lot of non-alcoholic products, whether it’s a fake Negroni or a fake amaro or a fake sparkling wine with no alcohol. Then there’s this other sort of middle-ground category that are kombucha-like fermented beverages with fruits and stuff in them. But yeah, we sell a lot of that kind of stuff. The thing is, the whole N/A space, eighty percent of the beverages are these cynical startup companies, these cornball stupid things that you can tell are just investment projects and they’re hoping to flip ’em and sell them. So we try to buy things from companies that have decided “this is what we do, we want to make this,” rather than being like, “we want Anheuser-Busch to buy this.”

Lauren Gitlin is an erstwhile wine professional, sometimes writer and full-time goat farmer. She makes skyr and hugs ruminants on Villa Villekulla Farm in the Delectable Mountains of Vermont, where she lives with her husband.

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