The location for this story almost doesn't matter, because there are new wine bars popping up in cities across the country (you probably have one in your town), and there are rough wine service experiences in myriad restaurants (you certainly have endured one).
After a productive Saturday, my wife and I decided to eschew a home-cooked meal in favor of trying something new in Rochester. We ended up at Corn Hill Landing, a trendy mini-district that is perched snug alongside the river.
Our first stop was a restaurant called Virtu. The decor would make you wonder if you stumbled into 1998, but no matter: It's a nice space with a provocative menu. We very much enjoyed splitting a plate of sweet potato and goat cheese agnolotti with toasted chestnuts, carrot reduction, and cilantro pesto.
Curiously, the wine list was a mess despite attempting to offer more than the usual Cab Sauv / Merlot / Chardonnay list. There is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape on the list, as well as a Barbaresco, Alsatian Pinot Gris, Tempranillo, and more.
So for a list that seeks to be adventurous, how can it not include a single New York wine?
I've made clear that I don't expect restaurants to carry New York wine if they can't sell them, so perhaps Virtu has carried a range of New York wines in the past. But it's a young establishment, so I doubt it.
The sense of adventure dissipates quickly when the diner discovers that even the more ostensibly exotic wine offerings are the mass-produced, just-what-you'd-expect bottlings. Also, the only section of the list that includes the vintages is the Big Reds section. What, lighter reds and whites are not worthy of vintage inclusion?
But for all the dismay one might have in not seeing vintages on a restaurant wine list, that's nothing compared to finding vintages omitted at a wine bar. After dinner we popped over to the new Flight Wine Bar at the landing.
I am mystified that any business claiming to be a wine bar would not list vintages. I imagine that a very small percentage of customers would care – let's say it's roughly 10% – but why risk alienating the customer who is deeply interested in wine? Listing wine without the vintage is a clear signal to the customer: "We don't really care about wine, and we assume you don't, either."
True to its name, this wine bar features nine flights of wine, moderately priced. We found a New York flight that included the Hermann J. Wiemer Frost Cuvee, Casa Larga French-oaked Chardonnay, and Thirsty Owl Riesling. I was annoyed to see (check out the picture) that both "Hermann" and "Wiemer" were misspelled. As was "Chardonnay" (!).
Flight doesn't offer a long list, and there is nothing there to inspire a wine aficionado, but there is a lot to like. Excellent glassware, for example, as opposed to the one-size-fits-nobody approach at Virtu (and most restaurants). Flight boasts a very sleek setting, the service was friendly (we also enjoyed the service at Virtu), and our flight of Italian reds held our attention.
I can't help but wonder, though, about the future of these establishments. Wine lovers don't make up a huge portion of the clientele, but when you repel them, you're injuring your chances for long-term success.