User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Wine and Food Wednesday
Why A Good Wine-By-The Glass Program Is Worth The Effort

By Stephen Eliot

There have been more than a few noisy voices raised against restaurant wine-by-the-glass programs, but I am still a believer. Yes, many such lists are overpriced. Yes, they are an easy way to get rid of wines that are less than stellar, and, yes, some seem assembled by folks who hail from somewhere other than the earth that I know. I have heard all the whines, but I am still a believer. My advocacy may come in part because I remember the days when the choices for a single glass of wine in a restaurant were few... house red, house white and, perhaps, a mix of the two that was passed off as Rosé. Maybe it is because I survived the days of Mateus, Lancer’s and Blue Nun. These wines, we were told by well-produced television commercials, made ideal drinking with every possible food, and I still recall my feelings of betrayal when the light bulb clicked on over my head, and I learned in no uncertain terms that I had been lied to.

Sometimes a single wine will serve well which each course and with every entrée on the table, but there are times when one will not do, and I for one am delighted that there are other options than coughing up the money for another bottle, doing without or settling for a train wreck of uncomplimentary flavors that simply does not taste good. For me, however, the greatest virtue afforded by a good wine-by-the-glass program is the opportunity to experiment with new wines and new food-and-wine combinations.

A recent evening out at San Francisco’s splendid SPQR restaurant drove home the point as we tasted eight wines with the same number of creative, wonderfully flavorful courses that ran from a “Buckwheat Mezze Maniche” with suckling pig ragu, smoked bacon and gold raisins to “Vialone Nano Risotto” made with maine lobster and veal sweetbreads to a show-stopping “Linguini al Cocoa” enriched with broccoli crema, beer-braised pork cheeks and mimolette cheese. The wines, all Italian, included among others a first-rate Sicilian sparkler made from Nerello Mascalese, a rounded, eminently tasty Alto Adige Gewurztraminer, and the single best Teroldego I can recall having tasted. I taste over 5000 wines each year, most in a professional context, but many of the wines and most of the producers were new to me, and, beyond being a gastronomic treat of the first order, dinner was filled with one discovery after another, the likes of which reminded me of why I do what I do for a living.

True, there are wines of which a single glass is not enough, and a full glass of others may prove to be too much, (none of the latter this particular night I am pleased to report), but I am as excited to find new wines and winemakers today as I was when taking my first vinous steps several decades back. A well-managed, carefully conceived wine-by-the-glass program facilitates just such discoveries, and sometimes the search is as much fun as the finding.

Visit SPQR’s website at


by the glass program
by jason carey
Posted on:4/6/2011 2:11:21 PM

you know what though, i am so sick of paying the full bottle cost for the first glass they sell. Even places I really love do this.. no wonder i barely go out for wine. 12-14 dollars for a wine that Wholelsales for the same by the bottle really irks me.

What Price Glory?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/6/2011 3:27:24 PM

Jaosn, do you have an equation that you think works?

Here's mine. A $20 bottle costs the restaurant $13. They sell it for $40 by the bottle. If they sell it by the glass, they get five pours from the bottle. That would equate to $8 per glass instead of $13. But, I appreciate the by the glass programs, for wine that is not on "program--i. e., being given away for by the bottle programs--do cost more than by the bottle. More glasses, more time for the staff, the cost of the system of storage (otherwise, I am not buying yesterday's leftovers), and so I am OK with $10 for a $20 wine.

What is your sense of the rights and wrongs of pricing by the glass?

glass half full
by Jason Ko
Posted on:4/6/2011 9:32:04 PM

Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I enjoy reading your blog, and I'd like to take your post even further with half glasses of wine.


I don't have much of a tolerance for alcohol, so I typically only order wine by the half glass if available, which is perfect for me. I once ate at a restaurant that even allowed 1 oz pours because they had an enomatic. I was able to enjoy a different wine pairing with each course!

Most people probably think I'm crazy for only wanting to drink 1-3 oz at a time, but that's better than leaving the restuarant with a bright red-flushed face.

by the glass
by Jason Carey
Posted on:4/7/2011 8:40:27 AM

Well Charles.. sadly i know the wholesale prices so maybe I am jaded .. But first let me say that I only tend to go to places that have unique wines.. not your large production stuff. So I am talking about bottles that wholesale for 12-15 bucks.. I think that I would be much more likely to buy 2 if say those wines were 8-9 bucks a glass including tax.. they are still at least tripling wholesale..I cannot afford to go to a place after work for a couple of glasses and a snack if i have to walk out of there spending 30 bucks.. that is the problem. I would prefer the French Cafe Model where people who have regular jobs can go to a wine bar or restaurant and get a couple of decent glasses of wine and a snack for 15 bucks. I am all about expanding my experience.. but by being able to afford to try cool new stuff.

A Good Five-Cent Cigar
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/7/2011 8:58:39 AM

Jason, thanks for responding to my question.

Places like that do exist, but they are not likely to be featuring limited production wine simply because there isn't much of it around under $20 retail.

However, I will grant you that a resourceful entrepreneur can find wines that fit that bill. CGCW recommends a boxful of them every month in our Best Buys column.

under 20
by jason carey
Posted on:4/8/2011 8:32:22 AM

Actually let me give you a list of unique wines that retail for under 20 a bottle.

Rocks and gravel

Domaine Gramenon Cotes du Rhone

Marc Olivier Muscadet

Donkey and goat Basic Syrah

J p Brun L'ancien

Quivira Zin

Navarro Rose Pinot Noir

Bernard Baudry chinon


......and hundreds of others ..

Plus it does not have to be a 100 Case wine. I am talking about thegreat artisinal wines out there that are not mass produced wine, not necessarily micro production..

High QPR Wines
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/8/2011 8:43:07 AM

QPR = Quality to Price Ratio

Jason, you are spot on. There are hundreds of wines that offer great value for the money. See today's blog for a group recommended recently in Connoisseurs' Guide. These are the wines I drink more often than not. I suspect most people do not live by cult wines alone.

Wine by the glass
by Martin Frant
Posted on:4/12/2011 5:33:39 PM

THe biggest problems we have found with wine by the glass here in Mass, is 1. We don't get what we ordered.  We never see the bottle, and sometimes it's the same wine we have at home, and we sure know the difference . 2. We order a more interesting and less well-known wine and the open bottle's been sitting for who-knows-how-long on the bartender's back shelf.

Since it's by the glass,of late I've been asking if I may taste the wine before we order.  Save's some surprises, and far easier to reject.

Old Wine By The Glass
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/12/2011 6:04:23 PM

A good wine by the glass program would either have a mechanical system to protect the wine or would toss out old bottles. I have no problem with reds kept for a day unless they are so low that they ought to be tossed out.

One good question to ask is when the bottle was opened. If the restaurant cannot say today, if it is late in the night or yesterday if it is early, and it does not have a Cruivenet or some other protective system, then by all means ask for a fresh bottle or to taste the wine.

Its your money after all, and wine by the glass programs are meant to serve the customer, not the restaurant.

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.