By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
By Evan Dawson, Managing Editor
We recently had a seriously disappointing wine experience at a celebrated Finger Lakes location: Belhurst Castle on Seneca Lake.
Really, I should say that it was disappointing and bizarre, because I'm not sure I can recall ever seeing something like this before. It was a Saturday night, Fourth of July weekend, and I was part of a large post-wedding group that wanted to hang out at a place with a solid wine list and good atmosphere. We arrived at Belhurst at about 11 p.m., where we found their gorgeous bar absolutely jumping. Classy room, great energy, and I loved the sunken bar area, which allowed customers to see out the windows and onto the lake.
We found space for our group and the staff told us to take our time, because they stay open "as late as our customers want us to be, which usually means around 3 a.m. on weekends like this." Very nice. We asked for a wine list, and they happily brought one over.
It's a fascinating list. You can find Rhone wines, northern Italian, Loire, hard-to-find Spanish, and many more. We settled on two bottles: a Vouvray and a wine listed as the 2001 Ravines Meritage, Finger Lakes.
I was curious to know if they had made a mistake with wine list labeling, considering that 2002 was the first commercial vintage from Ravines, but I wondered if there had been a 2001 bottling. And I was excited to find out, because 2001 is among the best red-wine vintages in Finger Lakes history.
Then the following conversation took place after I placed our order:
Staff member: "Oh, sorry, we're not offering wines from our bottle list for the rest of the night."
Me: "Oh. Why is that?"
Staff: "We locked up the bins. But if you want a bottle, you can order either a Belhurst wine or we can sell you four glasses of a wine from our by-the-glass list. That would equal a bottle."
Me, confused: "Uh huh. Is there a reason you don't allow people to order wines on the wine list you provide? I'm just surprised."
Staff: "Well, you can still get a bottle of a wine on our by-the-glass list. We stop selling the bottle list around 10 p.m."
I returned to our group and explained the situation, which engendered a bunch of incredulous looks. After all, their wine list proudly boasts the "Wine Spectator Award of Excellence Sixteen Consecutive Years." I suppose it should be amended to read, "Wine Spectator Award-Winning Wine List from 5-10 p.m; Mass-Produced Wines from 10 p.m. -3 a.m."
And really, the by-the-glass list was just as predictable, boring, and bad as any list you're accustomed to seeing. Twenty wines total, from the usual suspects of large producers (with perhaps an exception or two). I decided to at least ask if they could make an exception and to ask if they could verify the vintage on that Ravines Meritage, which had so piqued my curiosity.
Staff: "Sorry, it's locked."
Me: "Is it possible for you to unlock the bins?"
Staff: "Sorry, we can't."
I wonder if, when they run out of vodka, they run into the same problem with locks. I imagine they find a way to unlock the bin that has the hard stuff.
I chose not to order a glass, but one of our group did. He ordered an Argentinian Malbec, which was served somewhere close to 80 degrees. It had the temperature of bathwater. I would argue that a 90-degree day outside is not an excuse to serve red wine at 80 degrees inside. And this problem is not limited to Belhurst; we ran into the same issue at Esperanza Mansion on Friday night.
I don't mean to be overly critical on this issue, so help me out: Have you ever been to a restaurant or bar - especially one that prides itself on offering high-end service and an award-winning wine list - only to have them decide to lock up the bottle list? And should they have been willing to grab a key and help us out anyway?