The travel, illness, work, and holiday folderol of the past two months all added up to not being able to pay attention to life here in The Grape Belt. Let’s finish our little trip back east and then get on with the new year, with all sorts of new things to look at in the world of wine.
For any sensible, wine-loving traveler, the first order of business after landing at Buffalo Niagara International Airport is to head straight to Premier Wine and Spirits on Transit Road in Buffalo. (premier.premiergroup.net) This is survival shopping at its most serious. Once you leave the greater Buffalo area, and I was heading 40-plus miles west along Lake Erie, finding a decent glass of wine becomes quixotic, a fool’s errand in an increasingly arid landscape. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are restaurants in WNY that serve wine, but the choices offered usually fall into two categories: national, large-market, overpriced ho-hum, and locally grown vitis labrusca varieties that guarantee diabetes or ulcers, at times both. Too often overly sweet or overly acidic, wines made from vidal, niagara, chambourcin, seyval blanc and a host of other equally challenging grapes fill the local lists, just daring you to take a chance, to step right up and win the big prize. But, as in most arcades, the odds of success are long, and the risk is rarely worth the cost. I know folks who, for whatever reason, love these wines. I’m just not one of them. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve handed my dollar to the carnies on plenty of occasions, and walked away empty-handed almost every single time. In WNY, unfortunately, this is often a double loss. Not only is it a struggle to locate decent wine, it’s just as hard to find decent beer, regardless of what family and friends might protest. Every tavern and social club that I know of in Chautauqua County has several beers available, but they’re mostly just fizzy water that taste a little bit like beer. Light this, light that. How about light’s on, nobody’s home? Sad to say, but in the Grape Belt, it’s as hard to find a good beer as it is a good glass of wine.
One establishment that is doing its best to change this landscape is The Fireside Manor, which sits out at the western end of Dunkirk, where I grew up, not far off the popular lakeside vacation spot of Van Buren Bay. The Fireside’s owner and proprietor, Robin Cordovano, has put together what has to be one of the better, more thoughtful wine lists in an area where restaurants either don’t care enough or don’t know how to construct a decent lineup for their patrons. To find wines from Australia, Argentina, France, Italy, and California listed by the glass in such a remote location was a refreshing surprise, to say the least. With a mind towards the challenging economic climate faced by her patrons, Ms. Cordovano keeps her offerings in the value range, with a few higher ticket items, like Stag’s Leap’s “Artemis,” for those looking for something special. She takes her appreciation for the local clientele even further by keeping her mark-ups in the 50-75% range, sometimes even lower. If you’re looking for a restaurant that understands the dictum that charging less earns more, it’s The Fireside Manor. Any place in that part of the world that can offer interesting and affordable wines, along with great food and a comfortable environment, deserves attention. But don’t take my word for it. Go see for yourself. [friendly note to Robin: ditch the Cook’s. There are cavas and proseccos out there at the same price that are a far greater value. Trust me, your customers will thank you. Keep up the great work!] (www.thefiresidemanor.com)
My trip east ended where it began, in Massachusetts, with me flying solo after dropping daughter number one back at college. Worcester’s dining scene, as noted a few months back, is solid and reliable; finding a decent glass of wine there is no problem. But on this night simple comfort was the mantra and so I headed to the Boynton, a bar-restaurant that I think is one of the city’s most reliable food-and-drink destinations. There’s wine at the Boynton, sure, but the beer list is far superior. So I grabbed an empty stool, ordered up a cheeseburger and an expertly poured Guinness, and got ready for what I knew would be solid, satisfying meal. Each arrived, perfect in their own way, and I thought that maybe my expectations, too often, are all out of whack. Maybe the smart tack is to stick to what works best, regardless of where you are, to rely on local strengths and not go searching for something that isn’t there. Finding the perfect glass of wine isn’t always so damn important. Sometimes, like that night at the Boynton, the thing to look for is a good sandwich and a cold beer, and, to be happy with what you’ve found. (www.boyntonrestaurant.com)