FOOD FOR THOUGHT - August 26, 2009
Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Mark’s Article Archive
Whines by the Glass
If you’re a wine aficionado, food is only part of the equation when dining out. Wine lovers yearn for those elusive restaurants that synergistically combine great food and a stellar wine list, hopefully at a price that doesn’t necessitate taking out a home equity loan. There are times however when the oenophile finds himself in a perplexing situation in terms of ordering a bottle of wine. I refer to those instances whereby purchasing an entire bottle is excessive. Usually this happens when the wine lover is dining alone, or with companions that are momentarily refraining or worse yet, temperate. Thus, a standard 750 milliliter (25 1/3 oz.) bottle of wine, which contains approximately four 6-oz., or five 5-oz. servings, depending on whose counting, may be overabundant for the sole imbiber.
Doggie-bagging the unfinished bottle is probably the visceral solution to this predicament. But this can sometimes be fraught with complications. Some jurisdictions prohibit the removing of opened bottles from eateries, not to mention laws that prevent driving with an opened bottle of alcohol in a vehicle. Or if not heading home after the meal, the wine ends up languishing in the car; not a wise move, especially in warm weather. Or possibly, one might not have occasion to finish the bottle in the near future.
But an ever more prevalent issue is the expense of purchasing a whole bottle of wine in the first place. With today’s economic plight, much to the restaurateurs’ chagrin, people are buying more of their bottled wine in stores, not restaurants, and drinking them at home. Therefore, be it solitary dining, teetotaling companions, transportation, salvaging or economic reasons, the patron who desires merely a glass or two with dinner is left with two dismal choices: forgo having wine altogether or be forced to stomach the inevitably disheartening selections from the dreaded “wines-by-the-glass” list. The plonk du jour as I like to say.
Wines sold by the glass in most restaurants are notorious for their poor quality. The problem is straightforward economics: An opened bottle of wine does not last long. Once the cork is disgorged the wine will be a shadow of itself by the morrow. Even with those special rubber stoppers and accompanying pumps to suck out the air, the wine still swiftly deteriorates, albeit with less alacrity. In any event, the taste will be noticeably compromised in no time. Thus, better quality, or more to the point, more expensive wines, opened for individual servings become a significant financial loss if not completely sold. The potential financial setback compounds itself as the eatery escalates the quantity, but particularly the quality of the wines offered by-the-glass. In a feeble attempt to counter the loss, the dwindling bottles are inevitably relegated to the chef to be incorporated into some sauce. Unless a restaurant has high sales of premium by-the-glass wines, the only means of providing superior individual servings is a hefty per glass charge. But at that price point, it’s almost better for the customer to just order a whole bottle. In the end, most establishments are forced to provide dismaying, or at best mediocre wines by the glass.
Of course if your palate is undiscerning, this whole issue is a moot point. The enologically flexible patron can enjoy the simple house wine and concomitantly save some money. In some ways their vantage point is enviable. But for the connoisseur, being banished to the by-the-glass section of most wine lists is, for all intents and purposes, an exile to the gastronomical doldrums.
But, optimistically speaking, the glass is half full since a new trend, propitious for the by-the-glassers is emerging. As stated, due to our current economic situation, a burgeoning number of fiscally prudent diners are curtailing their purchase of bottles and thus subsequently opting for wines by-the-glass instead. This rise in demand for wines by-the-glass counterpoises the aforementioned economic dilemmas which plague individual servings. As the overall sales of individual glasses expand, it offsets the loss of the wine that will inexorably be left over. A good analogy is the produce section of a busy supermarket. No supermarket sells every single piece of fruit and vegetable on its shelf. Ineluctably some go bad and are discarded. But as total sales increase, the sting of the lost produce proportionately mitigates in the face of the rising profits.
Ergo, it now becomes reasonably feasible for proprietors to offer higher quality wines by-the-glass. Customers may be reluctant to spend $50 on a bottle of their beloved Barbaresco, but will shell out $15 for a single serving. Now they can have some quality wine, not feel deprived and save some money. Meanwhile the restaurant simultaneously eschews a no-sale. It’s an economic compromise that benefits both the seller and the buyer. It’s certainly better than the consumer completely abandoning his satisfaction or the business making no sale at all. Again, the bottom line is greater demand for wines by-the-glass eventuates in eateries providing more choices and sometimes better choices.
There is a limit however, a “glass ceiling” shall we say, to the level of quality of wines offered by-the-glass. No restaurant in their right mind is going to crack open a $300 bottle of Burgundy for an individual serving. Let’s face it, if you can afford what they would charge for that glass, you probably can afford the whole bottle. Moreover, no eatery would take the risk of not selling the remainder of such a costly bottle.
Nevertheless, for the average consumer looking to curb expenditures and still have a decent glass of wine, there’s a little bit less to whine about.
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