Making a List
by Paula Paradise
A guide to Buffalo's wine lists: what's rare, what's a bargain, what's worth a little extra
A friend sometimes phones while ordering at a restaurant (after the server has left the table) and asks with urgency in her voice, “What wine shall I choose”? Because of my expertise in the field and knowledge of market value, she is hopeful that by following my consult she will get the best wine selection for her money.
Wine enthusiasts are often reluctant to pay double or triple the retail price for a bottle on a restaurant wine list. Budget-minded diners are loathe to add a high wine tab to the price of a meal. Therein lies the problem: The restaurant wants to sell you the identical bottle as would a shop, but at a higher cost. To be fair, though I delightedly cherry-pick through wine lists, I ask, for the moment, that we put ourselves in the shoes of the restaurateur and consider the factors that contribute to this added expense. Surely, the wine is being opened, poured, or decanted in a pleasing ambience, but these services are just the final and most visible costs that accrue for the wine director.
The featured wines on any menu are, ideally, the result of a lengthy selection process that begins with regular meetings with multiple distributors, continues with attendance at trade tastings, and requires keeping abreast of popular wine magazines and worldwide trends. The wine buyer, mindful of the featured cuisine, should select wines to complement the food. Storage, too, factors into the cost as wine is purchased by the case and is both bulky to handle and delicate (in terms of temperature) to store. The behind-the-scenes costs do indeed justify a mark-up on wines served to you while dining out.
What irks me, however, is being presented with a wine menu that is neither original nor delicious and still carries a full markup. Sadly, far too many restaurants in Buffalo pay little attention to their wine menu either because they underestimate the palate of their customers or, more likely, have no formal training in wine themselves. The result is that the restaurateurs leave the wine selection to the sales reps sent out by the wholesalers and whose salaries are based on monthly quotas. Such complacency seems irresponsible and downright lazy on the part of those who purport to provide a fine dining experience. This is also the reason so many lists feature the same (often mediocre) wines.
If you will allow me one other gripe:With few exceptions (noted below), I cannot recommend ordering wines sold by the glass in these parts. The widespread practice of charging per glass the retail price of an entire bottle seems unjustifiable to me. The majority of the 20-plus restaurants I visited charge $7-10/glass for a pedestrian wine that retails for under $10 a bottle and wholesales (their price) at $5-7. I rarely order wine by the glass because too often the quality is bland (those aforementioned exceptions notwithstanding) and the prices high. Additionally, very few establishments have effective preservation systems, such as nitrogen gas inserted at the end of the day to keep the opened wines fresh. Air pumps help a bit but the wine tastes flat after the second day. Bartenders will claim, on the one hand, that the high prices of wine by the glass are justified by the inevitability of waste, but then when you ask them how they preserve open wines they assert that business in wine by the glass is so brisk that there is no need.
And thus wines in our fair city are at times poured tinged with the smell and taste of vinegar. My advice is to order beer in those instances where a bottle purchase is not feasible.
In conclusion, the restaurateur/customer relationship should be based on trust: Diners pay substantially over the retail price and in return restaurateurs provide wines that are unforgettable treasures not mass-produced swill.
The following are my personal picks, with two caveats: First, there may be other good values in terms of the cost/flavor ratio than those I have chosen. Second, wine menus frequently change so you may not find these wine values for long.
In order to evaluate 27 wine menus with brevity, I devised a one- to four-star rating system based on the originality of choice and quality of the wines offered. For example, if a wine menu contains predominantly big brand wines (Mondavi, Beringer, Kendall-Jackson, R.H. Phillips, Gallo, Sutter Home, or, heaven forbid, Yellowtail) with normal markups it would be considered a one-star menu. Though the wine may be perfectly consumable, it would hold no interest to a wine enthusiast, just as canned vegetables would not to a gourmand’s palate.
The Rating System
Allen Street Hardware (***)
Red: Palo Alto Reserve, $30; Terre Negroamaro, $30; Murphy Goode Petite Verdot, $35; Renato Ratti Barbera d’Alba, $36.
White: Mastroberardino Falanghina, $30.
Rosé: Zaccagnini “Rose Cerasuolo,” $30.
Scott Collins, manager, consistently changes his eclectic offerings. He frequently has something new for me to try that is delicious.
Hidden gem: Krug NV, $200.
I found the staff extremely helpful in navigating this all-Italian wine list.
Red: Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva, $29; Inama “Piu” Carmenere, $38; Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, $35.
Try Montepulciano by the glass, $5.50.
White: Vinosia Falanghina, $32; San Felice Vermentino, $34.
Red: Mocali Super Tuscan, $28; Tablas Creek Cote du Tablas $36; Ecard Savigny-Les Beaune 1er, $36 (a steal!); Scavino Rosso, $39; Etna Rosso Sicily, $39; La Spinetta Sangiovese, three-liter bottle, $180! Radio-Coteau Pinot Noir, a very rare cult wine, $72.
White: Mardon “Quincy” Sauvignon Blanc, $33; Crocker & Starr S.B., $48 (so tasty); Batard Muscadet, $24; Dagaueneau Pouilly Fume, a highly coveted producer, $89; Ken Wright Pinot Blanc, $45.
Wine by the glass: Yes. Too many great selections to do justice in this piece. Kudos to Mike Depue, wine director extraordinaire. Summer films on the patio, tasty food—get there! If I had to be locked inside a local wine cellar for an indefinite amount of time, please let it be Bacchus.
Fantasy Wine: 1982 Cos d’Estournel $550.
Red: Palacio Remondo, $28; Animous Douro, $32; Sageland Cab, $28.
White: Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, $27.
Rosé: Malbec Rosé, $25.
Betty’s has continued to add depth to their wine selections since opening, and their wine bar has yet to open.
Red: 1⁄2 bottle Hess “Allomi” Cabernet, $17; MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir, $31; Terrazas “Alto” Malbec, $24.
White: Dr. Loosen Riesling, $28.
Sparkling: Toad Hollow “Amplexus,” $28; La Marca Prosecco, $25.
I find the beer list is more enticing, e.g. Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, $5,Three Philosphers, $8, Ommegang Abbey, $6.50.
Buffalo Chop House (****)
Extensive selection, but very few choices under $50, especially reds. A separate list, featuring wines by the glass, has 10 reds available by the bottle for under $50. Unfortunately, a pervasively steep markup throughout the list dissuades my enjoyment—e.g. Punto Final Malbec, $36 (retail $10). I found more choices with whites, so here is your chance to try Riesling with steak!
Red: Layer Cake Primitivo, $45 (retail $15); Grand Nicolet Rasteau, $40 (retail $20); Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec, $40 (retail $18)
White: Ch. Montelena Riesling, $40; Cliff Lede, $40; Triennes Viognier, $30; Albrecht Pinot Blanc, $35.
Red: Kenwood Pinot Noir, $30; Tamari Malbec, $28.
White: Beringer Alluvium, $30; Stag’s Leap Chardonnay, $48; Matua S.B., $28.
Red: Montes Kaiken Malbec $25; Dehesa Gago Tinto $26
White: Ipsum Rueda, $25; Kim Crawford, $30; Roogle Riesling, $25.
Bistro Europa (**)
Red: Bridlewood Syrah, $31; Belleruche Côtes du Rhône, $31.
White: St. Michael Epppan Gewurtraminer, $35.
Daily board wine specials—on the afternoon of my visit, Clos Pegase Mitsukos Merlot, $48, and Silverado Chardonnay, $39, captured my attention. Plus an extensive beer list.
Red: La Posta Malbec, $35; Wesmar Zinfandel, $45; Condado de Haza, $46.
White: Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc, $46; Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris, $39; Feudi di San Gregorio Greco, $35; Vieux Lazaret white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, $46.
Just Vino (***)
Red: John Duval Plexus, $55; Januik Cabernet, $55; Archery Summit Pinot Noir, $55; Bellum Monastrell, $36; Montgras Carmenere Reserva, $27.
White: Con Class Rueda, $24; Chateau Lamothe, $26; Vinosia Falanghina, $28.
Rosé: Mas de la Dame, $30.
Sparkling: Gruet Brut, $14! La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti, $14! Could this suspiciously low price could be a misprint on the menu, or perhaps they’re half bottles?
Fantasy: Caymus Special Selection ’06 Cabernet, $150—below retail price!
Owner Jeff Borsuk changes 20-30 percent of his six-page menu weekly.
Red: Palo Alto blend, $22. A great price for this rich, full red, but with sushi?
White: Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, $22; Alamos Torrontes, $22; Codax Albarino, $22.
Sparkling: Argyle Brut Oregon, $40. An underrated, quality sparkling wine.
La Tee Da (**)
Red: Zaccagnini Montepulciano, $35; Sebastiani Cabernet, $35; Hahn Pinot Noir, $31.
White: Ch. La Noë Muscadet, $27.
Sparkling: Adami Prosecco, $28.
Left Bank (***)
Red: Montes Alpha Syrah, $34; Benziger Merlot, $32; Laetitia Pinot Noir Reserve, $48.
White: Gessami Gramona, $28; Trimbach Pinot Gris, $30; Sonoma-Cutrer Chard, $34; Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, $36; Lynmar Chardonnay, $48.
Sparkling: Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut, $38.
Red: Jade Mountain Syrah, $44; Joseph Carr Cabernet, $38.
White: Ironhorse Cuvee R, $38; Dom. Lalande Chardonnay, $28.
Sparkling: Magredo Prosecco, $32.
Mark Supples continues to drum up excitement about wine by keeping prices down—and the result is that he sells a lot of wine! Ask for his reserve list.
Red: Chateau Routas Syrah, $26; Peppoli Chianti Classico, $32; Sassaoloro, $36; La Jota Cabernet, $70; Schiavenza Barolo, $71.
White: Chatelaine Pouilly-Fume, $29; Bridlewood Viognier, $30.
Extensive martini list. Some wines of interest here, but not for the budget-minded—e.g. Romabauer Cabernet, $75 (retails $35).
Red: House Merlot (Kenwood), $26; Van Duzer Pinot Noir, $50; David Bruce Petite Syrah, $40.
White: House Sauvignon Blanc (Monkey Bay), $26.
Red: Belleruche Côtes du Rhône, $18; Cortijo Rioja, $19.
White: Moschofilero Boutari, $18; Chateau Bonnet, $18.
Choices here include organic wines. Overall not a fancy menu, just solid table wines to go with the home cooking at Pano’s. Nothing over $22 bottle and most of those are also sold at $5 glass—good value. Pano’s list is one of the surprises of my investigation!
Red: Shingleback Shiraz, $32; Mitolo GAM, $75.
White: Elk Cove Pinot Gris, $32; Groth Sauvignon Blanc, $39.
Sparkling: Argyle Brut, $30.
Rue Franklin (***)
A personal favorite for overall dining experience.
Red: Dureuil-Janthial, $47; Kinton Syrah, $41; Atalon Merlot, $45.
White: Bartardiere Muscadet, $32; Mure Riesling, dry, $40; Steel Pinot Blanc, $36; Coudel de Beaucastel white Rhône, $56; Chateau Talbot white Bordeaux, $48.
Sparkling: Feuillatte Brut, $55.
By the glass: Belleruche red, Chateau Lamothe white, $7.
Saigon Café (**)
Red: Handley Pinot Noir, $35; Flora Springs Merlot, $26.95.
White: Gainey Riesling, $22.95; Saintsbury Chardonnay, $34.95.
Red: Chateauneuf-du-Pape Mont-Olivet, $48; Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieux Lazaret 1.5-liter, $110.
White: Fournier Sauvignon Blanc, $30; Menetou Salon, Morogues Pelle, $36; Paul Blanck Grand Cru Riesling, $60.
Sparkling: Ruinart Brut Rosé, $95.
Red: Antinori’s Peppoli Chianti, $39; Mueller Syrah, $45; Estancia Meritage, $48; Chappellet Mt. Cuvee, $49.
White: Gini Soave, $34; Auratua Albarino, $35; Selene Sauvignon Blanc, $46; Dom. du Vieux Lazaret white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, $49.
Two reds by the glass sparked my interest: Campi Sarni Rosso and Newton Meritage. Do not get the Dona Paula Malbec, $40 (retail $9). Also, I would skip whites by the glass as they seem a notch below the standards of the rest of the list. Sterling Vintner’s Chardonnay and Caposaldo Pinot Grigio are mediocre examples of their kind and certainly not worth $40 a bottle. That being said, there are many wines of excellence offered at Tempo and it is one of the most exciting lists in town. Especially designed for high rollers without a budget, e.g. Rudd Oakville Cabernet, $200.
Recently, I dined at the bar and greatly enjoyed my Mueller Syrah, the delicious food, and personable bartender.
Fantasy: Krug ’95, $420.
The Place (**)
Definitely not a wine bar, but the prices cannot be beat! All the wines are $4 glass/$15.99 bottle. There is no wine list and your server will likely take your order according to your grape of choice, not the name of the producer. Upon inquiry I was kindly shown the labels by Kenny the bartender. Unpretentious, neighborly atmosphere.
Red: Mirassou Pinot Noir; Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz.
White: Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio; Mirassou Sauvignon Blanc.
31 Club (***)
Red: Ornellaia La Volte, $47 (retails $21); Masi Campofiorin, $32; Dogajolo, $24; Biale Petite Syrah, $78; Qupe Bien Nacido Syrah, $52; Justin Cabernet, $43; Edmeades Zinfandel, $38.
White: Knight’s Valley Chardonnay, $46; Primarius Pinot Gris, $34; Oro d’Castilla Rueda, $32.
Sparkling: Nino Franco Prosecco, $34.
I frequently dine here for lunch and enjoy the food enormously, but wine menu needs help.
Red: Blackstone Merlot, $5.25 glass/$20 bottle (not exactly a sushi wine).
White: Hess Select Chardonnay, $4.95 glass/$20 bottle.
Wine Thief (***)
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Red: Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec, $40; Luchador Shiraz, $38; Colombo Crozes Hermitage, $44.
White: Momo Sauvignon Blanc, $36; Laurenz & Sophie Grüner Veltliner, $30.
Rosé: Dom. Lagrézette, $24.
Sparkling: Graham Beck Brut, $33.
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