2011-09-15 / Cuisine

Wines by the glass improve through the years


When Wine Spectator started its annual ratings of restaurant wine lists three decades ago, wines by the glass weren’t even considered.

“If you wanted just a glass, your only choice was ‘house wine,’ often cheap and nasty,” recalls writer Harvey Steiman in the Aug. 31 issue of the august publication.

Fortunately for today’s wine lovers, by-the-glass programs have come of age, with many restaurateurs recognizing that a good selection both enhances the dining experience and generates business.

A great example is the program run by Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar. The chain, features 100 wines by the glass, changing the lineup annually.

“In the ’80s, all the wines that you needed to select were white, red and rosé, or ‘Chablis’ and ‘Burgundy’ as they were called,” says Maeve Pesquera, Fleming’s director of wine. “In the early ’90s, wine lists started to change to varietal selections, but were still very limited in by-theglass offerings.”

Aleks Stepanovich of Sea Salt in NaplesNaples. 
COURTESY PHOTO Aleks Stepanovich of Sea Salt in NaplesNaples. COURTESY PHOTO Lists have expanded since then, with many restaurants offering as many as 30 diverse by-the-glass offerings. Even relatively small restaurants, such as Table 209 in Punta Gorda and Yanos in Fort Myers, offerof close to two dozen wines by the glass. AtA Naples Tomato, wines by the glass star in the Enomatic wine-serving system.

“By-the-glass selections are absolutely essential,”es n says Jeff Gately, managing partner art- of Rumrunners in Cape Coral. “Not everyone is going to or ev desire, consume necessarily want to pay for an entire bottlettle at every sitting. Also, four guests at a tableble are very likely to have different preferences.” ferds, With wines by the glass, he adds, “A pinot noir lover can enjoy his/her glassass while the person next to them has a big hearty glass of cabernet.”

Getting the right wines onto the listist doesn’t happen by accident.

“Our by-the-glass program is selecteded based on the season, availability and itemsms on the menu,” says Aleks Stepanovich,h, manager/sommelier at Sea Salt in Naples.es. “The summer lighter fare calls for freshsh wines — rosés, Torrontes, Riesling, gruners ne — all of which pair perfectly with the salads and garden-inspired menu selections. cfor The heartier winter menu calls for richer and more expressive varietals — cabernet, sangiovese-based super Tuscans, brunello and syrah, just to name a few.”

Management pays close attention to customer preferences.

“We receive feedback from our guests, our wine managers and our sales numbers,” says Ms. Pesquera. “In addition, wineries and trade publications are a wealth of information for new wines. We taste through hundreds of wines to make the final selections.” In the end, she explains, the list should be balanced with wines from a variety of places and in a range of taste profiles, varietals and price.

Savvy restaurateurs also take trends into consideration.

“From time to time, something will trigger a spike in desire for a particular grape varietal and you have to go with it,” Mr. Gately says. “Last season we couldn’t offer or stock enough malbec. During the time the movie ‘Sideways’ was in theaters, pinot noir was all people were drinking.”

Increased sophistication among wine lovers gives restaurants the ability to offer a wider range of prices and quality.

“Guests are much more informed than they were 10 or 20 years ago,” says Ms. Pesquera. “They expect to see wines they recognize and know to be of good quality, in a range of prices, as well as wines they have not heard of before but they know to be tasty because they are on the Fleming’s list — they rely on us picking great wines.”

By-the-glass selections at Fleming’s include well-known brands like Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon and Carpe Diem by Dominus, as well as newcomers Craggy Range Cab-Merlot blends from New Zealand and Evening Borealis Northern White blends from Oregon.

At Sea Salt, the wine team strives to find distinctive wines that meet discerning customers’ expectations.

“Through close partnerships with winery owners and representatives, we are proud to offer our clientele wines by the glass that are rarely, if ever, seen,” says Mr. Stepanovich. Glass selections have included Domaine Serene Pinot Noir, Patz and Hall Chardonnay, Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon and Ornellaia and Gaja Tuscan wines, brands generally sold by the bottle. Ms. Pesquera only sees things getting better.

“The wine lists will keep evolving,” she says. “People will continue to be more adventurous in their choices (wines from unknown places and/or lesser known varietals), and they will tell each other about them.” ¦

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