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How Bacchus, Just Vino, and Trattoria Aroma select their fabulous wines
by Buck Quigley
Making the List
In our Best of Buffalo contest, Artvoice readers consistently cite three local establishments in particular for their excellent wine lists. We wanted to know what it is that set these places apart year after year, so we reached out to Breen Shea, co-owner of Trattoria Aroma; Jeff Borsuk, owner of Just Vino; Michael Green, bar manager at Bacchus, and wine wholesaler/importer Mike DePue—hoping to learn their secret. It turns out there’s more than one way to compile a great menu of wine.
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1460 Military Rd
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“We’re a wine bar,” explains Borsuk. “Our customers like us and keep coming back because we constantly rotate our wines.” Just Vino usually features about 80 wines on the list that are available by the glass or by the bottle. As a result of rotating new selections into the mix, he says that after about three months the list can be totally different.
Borsuk’s customers frequently come in and ask: “What’s new?” There are thousands and thousands of wines out there. “It’s a matter of exposure, and trying new and different things,” he says. The selection isn’t limited to any particular geographical location—wines from all around the world get their chance to shine. “I always tell people ‘There’s no right or wrong—it’s whatever you’re enjoying that day.’” He encourages patrons to expand their palates. If you come in and say you only drink chardonnay, or you only drink cabarnet, Borsuk says you are limiting yourself. “With all the choices out there, you’re gonna say ‘I’m gonna stick to Bud Light?’” His favorite customers are those who are open to his recommendations. “Nine out of ten times, we nail it.” Most bottles are $40 and under.
At Trattoria Aroma, the wine list is comprised of Italian varieties, to pair with the restaurant’s fine and fresh Italian cuisine. Different parts of the country are known for their individual wines, and there are roughly 20 unique regions. The trick is to pair the appropriate regional dish with its companion beverage to enhance the overall dining experience, according to co-owner Breen Shea. “It’s important to remember that the food and wine of a region developed to go together.”
Mike DePue helped put together the wine list at Bacchus years ago, serving as its original wine director. In his current role as a wine wholesaler/importer, he now serves as their main wine supplier and still helps train the staff, although he also works with a number of restaurants in town. We asked him what some of the challenges are to putting together a great wine list. “The challenge is cost,” he says, “a good wine list may require having inventory on hand, and small, independently run restaurants run tight on cash flow in this business. So having thousands of dollars wrapped up in a wine cellar is a challenge. That money is sitting in your cellar waiting to be sold, while it could be in your bank account, or buying food and paying staff. Staff training to sell the wine also takes time and effort.”
What’s popular now? Bacchus bar manager Michael Green says they are currently featuring wines from Silver Thread Vineyard in the Finger Lakes, a Ramsay North Coast California Cabernet Sauvignon, some Malbec from Argentina, and Toscana Rosso from Italy. Most of the fare is in the range of $7 to $9 a glass, or $24 a half-bottle. Or, if money is not a concern, order a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for $395.
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