With all of the great cocktails and craft beer out there right now, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about wine. If that’s the case, The Little Club is the perfect place for you to dive back in, and swim around in all the amazing wines being released right now.
We recently called owner/operator Tommy Lombardo about the opening of The Little Club, and what we got was a 10-minute presentation about how exciting wine is in 2018.
“People are starting to understand that really good wine is alive!” he cheered. “It changes in the glass and changes as time goes on.”
Located on Hertel Avenue, The Little Club is the sister restaurant to Ristorante Lombardo, which is directly across the street. Under the direction of husband and wife team Tommy and Mary Lombardo, The Little Club is dedicated to supporting local wine culture and unlocking some stuffiness that surrounds it.
“The whole idea is to break down any stereotype around wine; that it’s something you can’t drink if you don’t know a lot about it, or the idea that if a wine doesn’t taste good to you – you’re flawed in some way,” Lombardo told us. “That’s a completely bunk idea!”
If you’re a casual wine drinker, you’re probably used to sipping on buttery Chardonnays or pinot noirs with strong berry aromas. However, the flavors and aromas of wine can go much, much deeper than that.
“Wines like Yellowtail are more stable and static,” Lombardo explained. “They were created to give a specific flavor profile and appeal to a specific market. These wines are about fruit and approachability. That’s fine, but we’re starting see a backlash on that.”
The wine list at The Little Club is curated, we were told, based on three kinds of flavors and aromas: plant, animal and geology.
“Good wine should have all three of those because it can tell such a story about where a wine came from, and it makes for such a complex and interesting experience,” Lombardo explained. “Not only do you see the fruit and floral notes, but you also get animal notes, like the smell of good cheese. You also get geological notes, like wet stone, or the smell you get after a summer rain. Then half an hour goes by, and everything that you’re smelling in the wine has changed, it’s something different. That’s why people get hooked on wine and start to get crazy about it; because they start to experience these things in the glass.”
Part of exploring wine and toppling barriers at The Little Club is in the decor and atmosphere. Modern fixtures, bright colors and an open floor plan gives the place a modern feel. On our recent visit, classic hip-hop played in the background — pairing Biggie and Nas bars with a great tasting Tempranillo.
Going there incognito, we found the staff imminently helpful; they offered lots of suggestions and walked us through the wines they were feeling at the moment. It helps to be wine-curious at The Little Club, but don’t feel like you have to have a taste for dry or funky wines. We overheard a sweet-wine-only guest getting a slew of enthusiastic tips. If you want to opt out of the wine thing, for some crazy reason, there are also cocktails and craft beer available.
The highlight of our wine tastings was a red from the Canary Islands made from Listan Negro grapes. It had our mouths awash in strong herbal and berry flavors. We also had a kabinett riesling from Germany that was sweet and easy drinking.
Meant to accompany great wines, food at The Little Club includes cured meats, cheeses, soups, tapas and conservas — seafood that has been tinned to intensify it flavor. We had escargot, because that’s how we roll.
Prices were on par with the typical craft cocktail joint: 3 oz. pours for $5 to $6, 6 oz.glasses for $10-12, two-glass half-bottles from $15 and full bottles from $34.
While The Little Club is essential for local wine nerds, Tommy Lombardo told us the wine bar’s is here for people wanting to explore and try something they make not like.
“Our job at The Little Club is to keep our feet rooted to the ground,” he said, “to stay down-to-earth and tell people that there’s no wrong way to feel about these wines. If you don’t like something, that’s fine. Don’t drink that and we’ll find something else that you do like.”
The Little Club
1197 Hertel Ave., Buffalo, New York 14216
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. – 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. – 2 a.m., Sunday 3 p.m. – 10 p.m.