Americans are becoming a wine savvy bunch. Last year, we drank France under the table, becoming the world’s largest consumer of wine. Vino has become the beverage of choice at restaurants, too. More and more restaurants are recognizing this by offering flexible wine lists that reward diners with the opportunity to try several wines over the course of an evening.
When Steve Dowd, general manager and sommelier at Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar, was working on his wine list for the restaurant’s September opening, he added a dozen full bottles that could be ordered as half bottles. The equivalent of two generous glasses of wine, a half bottle allows a couple, for example, to each have a glass of white with appetizers and then each have a glass of red with entrées, spending the same, or even less than they would if they bought a whole bottle. In Dowd’s case, these wines would be too expensive as by-the-glass pours, but still wines that many people would appreciate the chance to try.
So what if another table doesn’t order that second half of the bottle that night or even the night after? Commonwealth uses a wine preservation system called Vinfinity, which hooks up to the bar’s soda gun and vacuums the appropriate amount of air from each bottle before it’s sealed with a rubber stopper. If the wines are vacuumed after every pour (which Dowd and his staff do), they stay fresh for about two weeks.
At tavola, Michael Keaveny’s cozy Italian trattoria in Belmont, any of the dozen or so wines offered by the glass can also be ordered as a carafe, which amounts to about two and a half glasses and is less expensive than ordering two glasses of the same wine. Manager Tracey Love sees a lot of parties of four ordering a carafe between them to sip while waiting for a table or looking at the menu.
“It’s convivial because you are sharing with others—and pouring from an open container is less fussy than a bottle,” said Love. Tavola uses a hand pump to store open wines, but because the carafe wines are also by-the-glass wines, they have no problem selling the remaining half before it goes past its prime.
With an 800-bottle, 32-page wine list under his purview, Keswick Hall sommelier Richard Hewitt has a lot of open containers to keep track of. The restaurant doesn’t sell carafes, but they do offer about two dozen 375 milliliter bottles, which offer the same flexibility for diners but without the cost savings. (The packaging of half bottles dictates prices just above half the price of a full bottle.) Hewitt will, however, pour a half glass of something for you to try, although he doesn’t advertise this service. You read it here first, folks.
Siips Wine & Champagne Bar offers a half glass (3 oz.) pour in addition to a full glass (6 oz.) of their 75-plus list of sparkling, white, rosé, and red wines. They also give diners the choice of a 1 oz. or 2 oz. pour of their ports and dessert wines. Oftentimes, an ounce is all you need of these high-octane wines and the price of the smaller pour sweetens the deal.
At Tastings of Charlottesville, Bill Curtis will pour you a half glass and features a flight or two every weekend with three to four wines side by side for $10-12. It’s a fun and economical way to compare wines from the same region or wines made from the same grape. Recently, for instance, he grouped a Serbian gamay, a Morgon (gamay from Beaujolais) and an American gamay together for $10. You’re bound to get a lesson or story from Curtis thrown in there too.
I’d love to see more restaurants offering half glasses, carafes, and flights. Variety is the spice of life and especially fun when that variety comes in the shape of wine.