Buffalo should craft its own wine culture
Good old-fashioned dishonest modesty
Buffalo wine purveyors have fallen hard for natural wine.
Couch wine: Old reliable. $15 or under per bottle, and stocked at every corner liquor store. Deceivingly sweet, and typically produced unsustainably. Seventy-five percent of California.
Dad wine: Old guard, fancy wine. Chateauneuf du Pape, old chenin, Champagne, Burgundy, Caymus, and anything that’s 100 points.
Instagram wine: “I want to be seen” wines. Wines that indicate you’re part of a current trend. The wine version of a bathroom selfie. #sommlife #sabrage
Unicorn wine: Gatekeeper wine. Wines that require trading, or being lucky to get on a mailing list. Allocated wines. Mostly great. Always pompous. Think Jura.
“A beer kinda place.”
“A cocktail town.”
“Shot-and-a-pop sorta folk.”
These are the long-employed excuses loosely lipped by industry members who lack the experience needed to sell certain items to certain clientele. Cocktails that push north of the ten-dollar price point and beer geeks waiting for hours outside of new-build breweries for a can have become standard in a city that, five years ago, could hardly sell a glass of wine for more than eight bucks. Over the past few years, Buffalo has become a place that expects drink lists with thirty IPAs and dozens of bourbon options. These same drink lists usually skated by with only four wines—two red, two white—labeled not by their region, year, or producer, but only by their varietal. (And don’t forget the boring bubbles for brunch.)
Aside from a few stalwarts, since the nineties, the best local lists could muster were Super Tuscans, chunky Napas, a pinot or two for the merlot-hating Sideways crowd, and champagne. It seemed that these wines—wines a certain demographic appreciated and consumed as a symbol of status—were the high water mark of the Buffalo wine scene. That behavior, combined with the rampant consumption of ten-dollar bottles of couch wine, created a city that viewed wine as either too pretentious, too feminine, or just not as good as more accessible or hipper craft beverage offerings.
The key here, though, is this state of affairs is past tense. I’m happy to report that Buffalo is finally on the precipice of realizing its potential as a major player in the wine scene. Seemingly overnight, Buffalo wine purveyors have taken to natural wine faster than any other new market. With the Buffalo wine boom in its infancy, it’s important to realize certain pitfalls that accompany blooming trends.
Buffalo does not have to appropriate another city’s wine culture
This is a common issue among smaller markets; they tend to mirror larger, coastal wine scenes. It can usher in both the good and bad aspects of those other wine cultures. Buffalo should take the lead in eschewing wine trends that are no longer appropriate. Of course, we don’t want wine to be pretentious anymore, but we’d also like to avoid the recent pairing of wine and hip hop that’s being absorbed by wealthy white suburbia. Or the use of forty-ounce-looking bottles of rosé for the masses. Old-guard wine brands have the tainted smell of luxury, and Buffalo has a poor gag reflex for snooty items, but we don’t have to fall prey to denigrating culture by association as the only alternative.
Much like beer and spirits, rare wines tend to be glorified to exhaustion. Take a quick glance at Instagram and you’ll see a handful of “unicorn” wines flaunted like a newly minted bartender might wave a Fernet token. Natural wine status symbols have replaced the dad wine status symbols. It’s important to remember that rarity does not dictate quality. Are these unicorn wines amazing? Most often the answer is absolutely. But natural wine is about progress, honesty, environmentalism, and a sprinkle of socialism. Flooding every list with the hardest-to-find bottles is a sure way to ostracize both new drinkers and consumers who can’t get behind three figure bottle purchases.
City of best neighbors
It feels natural to borrow from established cities to bolster what we fear we lack, but the truth is, it’s like hiding insecurity behind swagger, a loud voice, and a fly pair of shoes.
Buffalo has no reason to hide behind shallow industry bullshit. We have a burgeoning food, beer, and cocktail scene. We don’t need to copy more established cities; we have our own flavor (quite literally!). We have every right to claim Buffalo’s wine scene as its own. Buffalo needs to embrace its own baked-in good neighbor culture and use it to create a wine scene the larger wine world desperately needs: one with humility.