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Monday Manifestos
The Solution To Bad Wines By The Glass

By Stephen Eliot

My enthusiasm for restaurant wine-by-the-glass programs has been on the wane these days. Not that there are not well-chosen wines to be had, and some do afford reasonable value, but for every satisfying discovery I seem to make, I find at least as many disappointments. The ratio of hits to misses has not been good.

Too many by-the-glass offerings are simply too expensive for what they are; mediocre wines that are priced at ridiculously high mark ups, and I cannot count the times that I have been served a lifeless glass of something poured from a bottle I am sure has been open for days. If I want something of quality and character, I am far more likely to select a half-bottle when that option exists, but a reasonable selection of wines in half-bottles is not frequently found.

The problem, is that not every one of our restaurant outings is about high cuisine and “serious” wine, and more often than not what I want from a glass is something fresh, straightforward and tasty with which to wash down simple fare. I am beginning to believe that there just might be an answer, or at least the potential for one.

Restaurant service of wines on tap is far from new. I remember the bad old days when industrial red and industrial white from the likes of Anheuser Busch were what wine on tap was all about, but things have assuredly changed. Over the last several years, more and more restaurants have partnered with more and more wineries to offer wine by the glass drawn from small kegs holding 20 liters or so.

Now, it’s like anything else…quality will always tell. A keg will not make a bad wine any more palatable. The stuff inside needs to be good, but the number of well-made keg selections is clearly on the rise. Kegs cut down on the costs of packaging and shipping, and smart restaurateurs will be quick to pass the saving on to their customers. They are environmentally responsible in that they eliminate a good deal of glass, most significantly to me, the wines dispensed from kegs will remain fresh and pristine for many days if not weeks.

Just the other night, we checked out a promising new East Bay restaurant, Tribune Tavern in downtown Oakland, and right at the top of the wine list were ten selections listed under the heading “Grapes by Tap”. I might argue that several were a bit pricey, but we opted for a half-liter carafe of the 2012 Boat Dock Rosé of Sangiovese for a very reasonable $14.00 that hit the mark smartly with our crowded table of interesting small plates. Great wine? No, but very good, very fresh and very alive, and it was just as it should be.

I have been aware of the quietly increasing numbers of artisan wines available on tap, but I confess that I rarely try them. Our modest, but ever-so-tasty Sangiovese Rosé got my attention and set me to thinking about the important niche well-made wines on tap can fill.

I guess I have little choice other than to try a good many more.


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