Jeff Harding is well known among New York City’s wine community. A 30-year industry veteran, Harding worked his way up from server and bartender to the highly respected wine director position at the iconic Waverly Inn in the West Village, a position he still holds today. However, he wasn’t always focused on wine. It wasn’t until 2010, when he moved to France to “live the French lifestyle,” that he realized the joys of the vine.
“Wine was a part of daily life,” he recalls. Harding headed to the Loire Valley, fully immersing himself in the vineyards just an hour south of Chinon. He returned to New York the following year to work at Waverly Inn, where his passion for the wines of South West France is evident.
Harding also shares his passion for food and wine on his #VineyardChat series on Instagram, which he created at the beginning of the pandemic. “#VineyardChat started out with winemakers I’m friends with or have a personal connection with,” he says. “Then I started cold-calling people I found interesting. Now I’m starting to focus on garnering attention for female and BIPOC people in the business, as well as those focused on organics and biodynamics, regenerative farming, and more.” In his free time, Harding enjoys reading, tending houseplants, and cooking.
Here are three of his current favorite wines:
This sweet white wine is made with botrytized grapes, like the wines of Sauternes. “The rolling hills of Bergerac are one of the most magical places in the world,” Harding says. “Last time I was in the region, I drove through the foggy vineyards that produce this wine.” He says that botrytis is mysterious and primal, “and the complexity it produces in the fruit is insane.” Harding finds flavors of orange juice concentrate, orange zest, and fresh peach. “It’s zingy enough to put with duck confit or slow cooked pork, and sweet enough for anything salty, such as blue cheese or briny Atlantic oysters, but sometimes, it’s great to just pour over ice and eat with Cool Ranch Doritos.”
“Petit Courbu and Petit Manseng are the grapes here,” says Harding, who notes that these varieties are generally more commonly used as the base of sweet wines in Jurançon. “Winemaker Alain Brumont has a Midas touch with these golden wines, even though he’s more known for his stellar Tannat in Madiran,” says Harding, who notes that this white wine “sings of its fruit,” yet possesses grip and texture that allow it to hold up to hearty regional fare. The Montus Blanc Sec comes from clay-limestone soils and is slowly pressed for five hours prior to fermentation. The wine sees 14 to 15 months of sur-lie aging in large barrels.
The grape in this red wine is more commonly known in South West France as Fer, but winemaker Nico Hirassou, who is a champion of the little-known region of Gaillac, notes that there it’s called Braucol. Harding describes the wine as medium-bodied, with hints of smoke and forest floor. “The fruit holds up to steak, but the wine is also balanced enough for chicken or hearty vegetarian fare.” The grape is known for its pronounced aromatics and makes a full-bodied, concentrated wine. This expression is produced from hand-harvested fruit and is aged for 12 months in oak barrels.