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The Winemongeress

Meet Bridget O'Malley, wine educator

Bridget O’Malley isn’t just a normal gal. Hailing from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and landing here in Buffalo, O’Malley has brought with her a splash of New York City pizzazz and a truckload full of diva-red lipstick.

She currently fills the position of assistant manager at Gate’s Circle Liquors (1430 Delaware Avenue) yet she does not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit the profile a typical wine sales person. There is nothing hoity-toity about her, yet she is one of the top wine geeks in Western New York.

Born and raised in the borough of Brooklyn, where she spent the first 32 years of her life, O’Malley had no idea of the wine future that loomed ahead. An only child, neither of her parents have any dealings in the food or wine world; she is an anomaly.

She attended both Parsons School of Design as well as Kingsboro Community College, where she put her focus on fine arts. She aspired to own her own boutique gallery and sell her works to the rich and famous. “I always wanted to be one of those artists in SoHo who had fabulous gallery shows, but then I woke up,” O’Malley says. “All New York needed was another broke artist.”

For the next couple of decades she wound her way through the world of retail. Her favorite stop by far was at Heights Chateau Fine Wines and Spirits in Brooklyn, where she worked behind the cash register and watched the wine go by. According to O’Malley, she learned a lot about wine by just listening to the customers, owners and wine representatives.

Alas, her need for healthcare tore her away from her job at the Chateau and dropped her into the big-box giant, Barnes and Noble. She was not a happy camper. “I had to leave the coziness of the world of wine. I didn’t realize how much I actually loved it until I left,” she says.

She lasted 18 months at the store she laughingly calls New Jack City Barnes and Noble. The store was located in a somewhat seedy party of town riddled with violence that required an armed guard on-site at all times. She couldn’t take it. “I hightailed it up here,” she recalls. “I was driven out of Brooklyn by Barnes and Noble.”

One of her best friends resided in a suburb of Buffalo and O’Malley decided to make upstate New York her new home. She made her way to the Amherst Barnes and Noble and settled into a job she already knew.

It was during this time the she, through mutual friends, met Leslie Carscallen (now Leslie Heubach). The Carscallen family owns Gates Circle Liquors, and Heubach promptly offered her new friend a job. She gladly ditched the stacks and headed for the racks at Gate’s Circle. She was prepared to resume her role of cashier but Heubach had other intentions. “She wanted me on the floor, which scared the hell out of me,” she admits. She over came her fear and has been working at Gate’s for approximately six years.

Lacking any formal training, she credits her ever-growing knowledge of grape juice to self-education via books, a keen ear, and, of course, sipping more than just a few glasses. Her favorite part of working in wine is helping her customer’s make the right choices for their palates.

Her passion for wine has also led her to help create a wine education program at Gates. She spearheads wine classes that run every other Saturday and make the often-intimidating topic of wine accessible and understandable her customers.

Gates Circle makes the job quite easy for her as the management offers their full support, including carving out a specialty tasting room in the rear of the store. Now operated by the third generation of Carscallens, Gates has been selling booze to Buffaloians since the 1930s. Their commitment to customer service is what has allowed O’Malley to flourish.

Her aspirations, however, expand beyond her employment at Gates.

“I am really pretty passionate about wine education,” she says. “We need a wine school for both novices and professionals in this city.” She is ready to get started and looking for a few other winers to kick in some cash to get her dream off the ground. In the meantime, she is happy tipping back her glass and enjoying the nectar of the gods.

Frequently, O’Malley is asked what she recommends and what she is currently drinking. Her favorites change nearly every week. “I like to pick wines that no one has heard of but wines that deserve a chance. I am a fan of the underdog,” she says.

Currently she is sipping a lovely Sancerre Rose by Roger and Didier Raimbault, a wine she enjoys so much she could take a bath in it. She is also weak in the face of a white Burgundy and is uncorking the 2009 Albert Bichot Bourgogne. For a red she jumps into Finca Resalso 2009. “I’m a big fan of the concentrated, jammy monsters that come from Ribera Del Duero,” she says.

To find out what O’Malley will be drinking next week, stop into Gates. The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 9am until 10pm and Sundays from noon to 6pm. She will be happy to steer you to the right vines and wines for you. “And that’s my song and dance,” she says with her signature red lipstick smile.

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