We'll Drink to That / A different kind of wine list
Bartender Tim Leary and owner Keith Raimondi of The Dapper Goose.
Photos by kc kratt
The Dapper Goose
491 Amherst Street, Buffalo
When The Dapper Goose opened its doors on Amherst Street last fall, it already had a rep. One of its owners, Keith Raimondi, is an Olean native who had made it big in Philly. Every Buffalo food fan Googled the guy’s name once news of the restaurant’s impending unveiling traveled through local circuits. We quickly learned Raimondi had won Bartender of the Year and received coverage for that, among other things, on respected websites like Punch and Eater. With little other information to go on, it’s no wonder Buffalo anticipated Goose’s focus to be on craft cocktails.
Raimondi brought a brain trust of experienced industry folks (who happen to double as friends), to help open the joint. Each lends their individual strength to the business, including Raimondi’s partner Peggy Wong, bartender Tim Leary, chef Jesse Ross, and others. And yes, the cocktails are great. So is the service. And the food. But the wine at Dapper Goose may be its most compelling offering.
Goose’s wine program stands out from most others in the area, thanks in part to Raimondi, but also Wong and Leary who share Raimondi’s affinity for young, funky wines. Over the last few years, young, natural wines have acquired a reputation (much to the chagrin of many) as “hipster” wines. This is not a slam. The hipster scene is known for its love and support of craft cocktails and beer, farm-fresh ingredients, and its overall artisanal ethos. This love may arguably spawn some dilution of quality or intent overall, but it’s also led to increased availability of better drinks and better food for the rest of us not-so-hip folks. Wine is no exception. Well, maybe it is in Buffalo, but that’s changing in the hands of team Goose and a few other frontrunners.
It’s cold and dark outside as Raimondi and I sit down to pints of gose in a neighborhood tavern. The smell of wings and a sleepy soundtrack of classic rock anchor our conversation. Leary is busy, Goose’s staff is small, so it’s hard for anyone to get away; he and I end up talking via email later that week. But, Raimondi and I start off sipping sour beers, swapping somewhat embarrassing confessions about our first favorite wines (Wolf Blass and Conundrum, respectively), before I ask him to tell me about his love affair with the stuff.
Keith Raimondi: Wine is the thing that makes me happiest. Always. I always appreciated it, but when we started working at Townsend a few years ago [Townsend is a diminutive but well-respected French-leaning restaurant in Philadelphia where Leary and Raimondi worked together], I really learned about French wine. That’s when I realized it’s so much more than I ever thought.
Wine never tastes like wine; it never tastes like grapes. Instead, it tastes like millions of other things. I like it for a lot of reasons, but also because it makes you connect with things you’ve forgotten. At Townsend, we’d do blind tastings all the time and once, a wine we sampled tasted like currants after they’d been sitting in the hot sun, just like the ones from the bush outside my grandparents’ house. Instantly, I was back in that moment.
And had you thought about that often or was it that the wine suddenly took you there?
KR: I hadn’t thought about that moment in probably twenty-something years. And, I realized that I intellectually understood these things about wine, but now, now I really knew.
When you decided to open DG, obviously the wine program was going to play an important role. What approach did you take?
KR: We wanted to be strong everywhere. Hospitality is number one for us, always. Beverage and food are equal, and they’re in second place. But every component of the restaurant must reflect who we are, no matter what. We could’ve put a wine list together a million ways, but if it wasn’t a list of wines we like to drink and wines we care about, then it’s never going to work for us.
Tim Leary: Our vision for the wine program was to combine the traditional styles of wine as well as newer, more unconventional styles.
KR: The wines that I like, natural wines, use natural fermentation. We wanted to serve what you call [referring to CGS, specifically] “hipster wines.” Those are wines we’re really excited about it. The idea is that our customers will love them if we love them. When you visit us, you’re not drinking wine we thought you’d like, you’re drinking wine we love and think you’ll love, too.
You also have access to wines I’d struggle to find in a store. Like the 2014 Willamette Valley Malvasia Mamacita pétillant naturel we drank together. I’d never find that in a store.
KR: No, probably not.
If somebody doesn’t really know a lot about wine and wants to put themselves in your or Leary’s hands, how does that work?
KR: Tim and I begin by asking what a customer likes. That gives us an indication of their taste and helps us get an idea of where to start. If they know where the wine they like is from, that’s even better. People don’t always know why they like certain wines, and they’re not necessarily supposed to, that’s not their job, after all, their job is to enjoy what they like.
But our wine presentation isn’t stuffy. It is proper, for sure. I might be wearing a t-shirt or my sneakers might be untied, but we want you to have a new experience so we can show you things we love! When you’re going out, it’s the very best time to try something new. There are so many wines out there; you’re never going to taste everything. And if you keep buying the same thing, you’re missing out.
TL: What I think makes our wine list and wine service different is that we’re a small restaurant with a very small staff. Keith, Peggy, and I are always there, so if guests are unfamiliar or curious about the food or wine, one of us is nearby to help answer any questions or suggest recommendations.
I think a lot of people feel there’s something wrong with them if they’ve not yet sorted the types of wines they like to drink, and I think that’s unfair. I mean, where can the average person learn what they like without tasting a ton of wine and being surrounded by people who know about wine?
KR: I taste probably thirty or forty wines a week. I taste more wine than probably the top one or two percent of the country. But you can’t know without tasting. That’s the barrier we’re trying to break. There’s been a stigma around wine for so long as if you should be embarrassed if you don’t know something. But I don’t know shit, you know? I barely know anything! I know what I like. A lot of people are scared or intimidated, but we just want to get them something they will like. We want to have fun with wine!
Instead of being solely about age or how good a certain vintage was, it seems like young wines are more about character and being very drinkable, not something you would necessarily cellar. I think a lot of consumers don’t realize that wine comes in more versions than cheap factory wine and expensive stuff you age. What do you think?
KR: I like wine that is meant to be had very young. Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed very old wines. But, what I like about young, natural wines is their expression of, or return to, craft and making things by hand. These wines are made by people working very hard to allow grapes to grow as perfectly and beautifully as possible. And then those people work even harder not to screw that up. If you want to drink something that happens naturally from start to finish? It isn’t going to be pretty. It’s going to be real. And funky. And fun. And delicious!
On one occasion or another, I’ve shared wine talk with Raimondi and Leary over several glasses (ahem) or bottles of wine. One special night, friends and I consumed an array of exceptionally good options: a Carignan from Amplify Wines out of California, Denny Bini Lambrusco dell’Emilia from Italy, a bottle of Fuso21, a Barbera Piemonte, and Listán negro from Bodegas Vinatigo on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. On other occasions, I’ve sampled a glass from an amusingly packaged forty-ounce of Muscadet or a crazy, hyperoxidized dessert wine from Rhone. I don’t think I can accurately recall or relay all the great wines I’ve had at Goose since it opened, which means the last few months have been the best wine months of my life, thus far.
“What I love about our guests here in Buffalo,” Leary says, “is that they’re very open and willing to try different wine and food. I feel that they see the food and beverage scene exploding, and they’re excited to be a part of it.”\
Hopefully, after you visit Goose a few times, you’ll be as excited about their wine list as I am—and as they are!
Christa Glennie Seychew is a consummate negroni drinker unless, of course, there’s really great wine to be had.