Wine: Join the Club
By Mark Criden

Despite rumors to the contrary, #1 is not the loneliest number; that distinction belongs to zero. But it’s not too hard to see why 1 is in the running. A lone person draining a single bottle? That’s not wine; that’s bourbon, two aisles over.

A bottle of wine (hell, even a glass of wine) tastes much better when shared. And, if two is good, then, vino-wise, four’s got to be better: a thirsty quartet increases the likelihood of not only draining one bottle, but doing serious damage to another. With sixteen, you might tuck into the wonders of the better part of a case.

If Bacchus is the God of wine, then Malthus is surely the inspiration behind wine clubs.

Hooking up with a wine club or class is the single most convivial and educational way of expanding your palate. Lucky for you, there’s a raft of local choices, and you’re welcome at each and every one.

First, the local infant among wine soirées may be the best overall value: Mike DePue’s Wednesday night group tastings at Bacchus Wine Bar and Restaurant at 56 West Chippewa in Buffalo. DePue, a certified sommelier and COO of Steve Calvaneso’s local restaurant empire, conducts one-hour wine classes at 6:30 and 8 p.m. every Wednesday night. Six to ten lucky participants will be treated to Mike’s enthusiastic, knowledgeable discourses, often focusing on contrasts and comparisons between old and new world wines (California Cabs versus Bordeaux, Australian Shiraz and its French Syrah cousins). For a mere $20, you’ll taste four or five wines, some delicious bites from the restaurant’s fascinating menu, and Mike’s wide-ranging commentary that promises to raise your oeno-consciousness. Reservations are a must! Call 854-9463.

DePue, of course, is not alone in understanding the love match between food and wine. Several years ago, Jean Delmas, the renowned winemaker at Bordeaux’s Chateau Haut Brion, was asked if he was concerned that his wine may not show well when served alongside the more obviously voluptuous Chateau Mouton Rothschild. “Haut Brion is not made to be served with Mouton,” he replied. “It’s made to be served with food.”

Delmas could be the godfather of the Buffalo Branch of the International Wine and Food Society. My sentimental favorite (it was run once by a guy who looked astonishingly like me), the IWFS is the only one of these featured groups that offers both a themed array of wines and a full dinner to match. Meeting the first Friday evening of every month at the Bijou Grille in downtown Buffalo, a couple of dozen wine lovers get to broadly survey a tightly defined bunch of wines like California cabs or red Burgundies. Tastings can be vertical: ten vintages of Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape, say. Or they can be horizontal: ten Chateauneuf du Papes from 1998. Either way, unless you’re a devotee of short attention span theater, the experience will give you a heightened idea about a grape, a producer or a vintage.

Guest speakers occasionally show up, but most IWFS tastings are conducted by local attorney and bon vivant David Kowalski, who, with his partner Claudette Pelletier, are famous for their notoriously lengthy, complex, and celestial dinner parties. For the cost of admission (members pay $60 per evening; guests pay $80), you can happily enjoy their hospitality at the IWFS. To get on the mailing list or for more information, including membership, call David at 885-7056 or email him at chezk.dk@verizon.net.

Fans of Kowalski’s unapologetically hedonistic approach may want to note that a few times a year, he and Claudette head down the Thruway for Westfield, where he headlines wine and food weekends at the William Seward Inn. Weekends begin on Friday evening with a light supper, and culminate with a seven-course dinner on Saturday evening. Call 326-4151 for more information, or check out the Inn’s website at www.williamsewardinn.com.

Perhaps the most celebrated member of the local wine-tasting community is David Male, long-time chair of the local branch of the Taster’s Guild and its predecessor, Les Amis du Vin. Male, whose palate and expertise are renowned, is a longtime judge in numerous wine competitions, including the Finger Lakes Wine Competition, for which he serves as chief judge. He brings this expertise to bear for a few dozen wine aficionados at 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at Bud Hanny’s well-known Eagle House on Main Street in Williamsville.

The Taster’s Guild affairs, held in partnership with Hodge Liquor, usually feature a speaker employed by a wine importer or distributor and the wines that speaker is interested in promoting. These folks may all, essentially, be salespeople, but they are almost always knowledgeable, classy salespeople who invariably have worthwhile, classy products to push. Interspersed amidst the pouring are light appetizers, but these events are far less food-oriented than the IWFS affairs. For further information, call David Male at 634-2456 or email him at vinehous@aol.com.

Perhaps the least-known wine club in town is the Romulus Society, run by Brighton Liquor’s Bob Leighton. Romulus meets nine times yearly, mostly at, coincidentally, the Romulus Club on Kenmore Avenue. All tastings are of the highest caliber and conducted by the club’s 35-40 members, a who’s-who of Western New York oenophilia. Although welcoming to newcomers, this is not a club for beginners. The annual package costs $300, and includes all tastings. For further information, call Bob at 833-2606.

While this may look a bit like Macys promoting Gimbels, I’d be remiss in not letting you in on the wonderful educational programs Artvoice columnist Mike Andriaccio is running at Vino Aroma on Main Street in Williamsville. Andriaccio teaches numerous classes, but his basic may be the most fun. Dubbed “Sedimental Journeys,” the three-part class reviews techniques of wine tasting, the treatment of wine by the consumer, and an overview of varietals and wine-growing areas. Andriaccio’s quite a renaissance man, forming half of a celebrated guitar duo with his wife, the olive oil maven Joanne Castellani. The new schedule of classes should be out as you read this, so call Vino Aroma at 633-3433 or Mike at 681-8106 for details. You can also check out his web site at www.michaelscellar.com.

What I’m Drinking this Spring
We’ll have a full set of summer recommendations next time, but around these parts May and June are too beautiful to experience without a glass in hand. Generally, what works best are transitional wines, wines that have intense flavors and aromas but without the weight or alcoholic clout that make you feel as if you’ve been whacked upside the head. Put away your high octane bruisers, like Barolos, Hermitage, and head-spinning Cabernets from California, and, unless you’ve got some red meat searing on the barbecue (read: Zinfandel), reach for one of these:

Pinot Noir will marry well with a wide variety of lighter dishes, including fish like salmon and tuna. From California, look for Calera, Chalone, Saintsbury, Sanford, Rochioli or Hartford Court. From Oregon, try Chehalem or Ken Wright Cellars. In red Burgundy, there are some great values from Drouhin and Jadot.

Beaujolais is far more than the tsunami of nouveau that washes over us every November. Serious, but not solemn, a great, slightly chilled beaujolais is about the most thirst quenching red around. Top producers to seek out are Lapierre, Thevenet, Foillard and Durdilly, but I’d definitely drink some of Duboeuf’s bottlings, especially the Morgon from Jean Descombes.

Chinon is made from the highly aromatic Cabernet Franc grape and hails from France’s Loire Valley. Also served with a slight chill, it marries beautifully with a variety of grilled vegetables and other light fare. Top producers include Joguet and Breton.

Much to my surprise, I’ll be seeking out a number of Ontario wines this spring. While I’ve long extolled the virtues of our neighbor’s Icewines, many of their dry wines impressed me at a tasting sponsored by the Canadian Consulate a few weeks ago. Standouts included the 2002 Riesling Semi-Dry and 2002 Cabernet/Merlot from Cave Spring, Henry of Pelhams’s surprising 1999 Cabernet-Merlot, the 2000 Cabernet Franc from Pelee Island Winery, and Pillitteri’s 2000 Cabernet Franc and 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I was also impressed by Legends Estates’ 2002 Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc normally produces wonderfully aromatic whites from Vouvray in the Loire Valley, filled with zingy acidity and honeyed apple flavors. It’s a wonderful springtime wine, and the Legends Estates version was not only convincing, it was utterly delicious.

Check them out!

Mark Criden is the former chair of the Buffalo Branch of the International Wine & Food Society.


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