Do you look at the wine list before you order a wine by the glass? If you don’t, you may be missing out on some good wine and occasionally some good values. Many restaurants are increasing the number of wines that they offer by the glass. While some still just have their “house” Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, more restaurants are providing choices within these varieties and are adding more varieties to their by-the-glass lists. It’s not unusual to find Malbec, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties on the list these days.
A good by-the-glass wine list is also an opportunity to branch out and give your palate some exercise. On the whole you’re not spending a huge amount for a glass of wine, so try something new. Be brave, try a variety you haven’t had before. If you’re in a Merlot rut, try a Malbec or a Pinot Noir. If you stuck on Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, try a Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re not that brave, at least try a different label of your “usual” wine or try one from a different part of the country or the world. Most restaurants will pour you a sample of their by-the-glass wines, so you really don’t have to risk anything to experiment with something new.
Two things to beware of when ordering wine by the glass. Some restaurants don’t think that by-the-glass-wines deserve real stemware. They’ll try to serve your wine in one of those tiny little 1950s “Libby’s” glasses. You know, the kind our mothers got for free from the grocery store. If you know the restaurant has stemware, ask for a glass appropriate to the wine when you order. I usually just ask for a “real” glass and they know what I mean. You will enjoy the wine more in the right glass. Even mediocre wine tastes better in a good glass.
The other thing to beware of is wine that has oxidized because it has been open too long. Unfortunately this is very common. Some restaurants at least refrigerate their open bottles to retard oxidation, but some don’t even do that. They will be happy to pour you’re the last few ounces from a bottle that was opened two days ago. So, check your glass of wine carefully for signs of oxidation. Does the color look right? Oxidation turns wine brown, so if your red wine is amber or your white wine is brown or a dark gold, it may be oxidized. Does it smell right? Wine should smell fresh and, for the most part, like fruit. If the wine smells musty or like burnt raisins, it may be oxidized. If you suspect your wine is oxidized, send it back and ask for a glass from a new bottle.
For reasons that escape me, most chain restaurants offer a minimal number of by-the-glass wines. On the other hand, proprietor owned restaurants seem to have, on average, more by-the-glass wines. One of the largest selections in the immediate area is Café du Bois with a list of around twenty by-the-glass wines, followed closely by Raffa’s with sixteen. Here are wines I’ve selected that you might want to try from the by-the-glass lists at few of our local, proprietor owned restaurants.
Kendall Jackson Chardonnay
Park West Pinot Noir
Café du Bois
Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay
Chateau Lenormand red Bordeaux
Mandolin Pinot Noir
Rosenblum Vintner's Cuvée Zinfandel