Monday, August 23, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Order a Bottle Over a Glass

In today's age of chain restaurants and flare ordering untainted wine can be a challenge. This isn't limited to just chains however, local bars, steak houses, diners and other eatery establishments have a difficult time maintaining freshness and quality in the wines they offer by the glass. When going out for a drink or dinner the odds of enjoying your wine increase exponentially if you order a bottle over a glass. Here are the top ten reasons why:

1. Selection
Many restaurants and wine bars have three times more wines available by the bottle when compared to the by the glass selection. In an attempt to maintain freshness many establishments only put a handful of wines by the glass. Ordering wine by the bottle allows you to choose from a much larger list.

2. The fourth glass is free
It's almost always a better deal to buy wine by bottle than to purchase it by the glass. Establishments that serve wine take less risk when customers order it by the bottle, and they reward us for it. If you really want a value (price vs quality) order the $100+ bottles. While that sounds crazy these wines usually have a flat fee added to wholesale price whereas many wines under $100 are based on a certain margin like 200% markup or something.

3. Quality
This is the single most important reason to order a bottle of wine over a glass. Many establishments who serve wines by the glass don't maintain a freshness quality policy. In other words, that Merlot behind the bar, that was closed by putting the cork back in to it, has been sitting back there for the last three weeks. A good wine bar or restaurant will have a three day freshness quality policy meaning that if it's opened on Monday it needs to be dumped down the drain at the end of the shift on Wednesday. A great establishment has a two freshness quality policy so that wine that was opened on Monday is dumped at the end of the shift the next day.

Spoilage and dumping wine can be a major cost issue for restaurants so many just choose to open it and leave it open until it's gone. I still don't understand the chain restaurants that serve their wines by the glass out of magnums (equates to two standard bottles). They have a tough enough time selling 4 glasses before it goes bad let alone 8. Ordering a bottle ensures that the juice inside is fresh and if it's tainted with any number of wine related faults you can send it back. Not that you can't send back a glass of wine but who's to say the situation is going to be any better?

4. Temperature
Optimal service for most red wines is between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. However many red wines served by the glass are stored behind the hot bar on shelves (bar coolers emit a lot of heat so it gets very hot behind the bar, that's why a lot of bartenders wear shorts). For whites the optimal service temperature is between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet many white wines are stored in the beer coolers that are usually set around a cool 32 degrees Fahrenheit, way too cool for even the coldest of whites.

If your order a glass of wine and it's served too warm the only ways to chill it down are to put ice in the glass or ask your server to put it in the freezer. Ice dilutes the wine and the freezer could take a while, neither option sounds good.

When you order a bottle of wine you can control the temperature better than if you order a glass. If the wine bottle brought to you is too warm, most likely because they store it in their kitchen, you can ask for an ice bucket to cool it down. If a white is too cold you can just let it sit for a moment with a towel or napkin around it or put your hand on the bowl of the glass to warm it up (you could do this for a wine by the glass that is too cold as well). People who say it's taboo to put your hand on the bowl of the glass are assuming that the wine is stored and served at the optimal temp. If it isn't, putting your hand on the bowl to warm it up is a must.

5. Brown bag it
Many states allow diners to take their open bottle of wine home with them if they don't finish. As I mentioned, many restaurants have a smaller selection of wines by the glass. By allowing people to put the cork back in the bottle and take it home states promote responsible drinking while allowing people to have any wine on the list without having to finish the whole bottle. If you don't know the laws of the state you are in ask a server for clarification.

6. Decanting
If you don't like chewing your red wine than you might want to order a bottle. Many reds have sediment or floating particles. Restaurants decant (pour the wine into another vessel) to remove these particles. If you order a glass of wine and that particular bottle has sediment odds are you are going to get some chewies. When ordering a bottle diners can request that the server decant the wine to remove the particles.

7. Sherlock Holmes
When you order a bottle of wine you get a number of clues as to the type of establishment you are dining at. The way a waiter holds, presents, opens and serves a bottle of wine can tell you a lot about the type, and amount, of training the staff received and ultimately the type of restaurant or wine bar you are in. If the server shakes the bottle, opens it by pulling off the foil (also called capsule), brings it to you after it has been opened at the bar, or any number of service faux pas you can rest assured, the establishment isn't up for a Michelin star.

I'm not implying you need to dine at a three star every night, I'm just saying that ordering a bottle and paying attention to the way it is handled can tell you a lot about an establishment, which can come in handy if you are not familiar with the restaurant. If they open the bottle behind the bar and bring it to you let me recommend ordering the fried chicken strips, not the steak and shrimp.

8. The cork
When you order a bottle of wine the server should open it in front of you and present you with the cork. While presenting the cork is mostly tradition it can serve a purpose. I have had plenty of wines that have been tainted or unhealthy and have a perfect cork. Inversely, I have had wines that are perfect and the cork looks like a disaster zone. The cork can be one of the many components a consumer uses to check for a wines health. When you order a bottle you get an extra clue as to how the wine was stored which can help determine if it's worthy of purchasing.

9. Verification
When ordering a glass of wine you don't usually get to see the bottle. A server or bartender may accidentally, or worse yet intentionally, pour you a glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay instead of Talley Chardonnay ($5 glass price difference) and if you don't pay attention you may not notice it. Ordering the bottle ensures you get the exact vintage, style and producer you intended.

10. Size matters
When you order a glass of wine the bartender determines the amount of wine you get, which can be good if they have a heavy hand. But if it is the last pour from a bottle and they don't want to open another you may get shorted. Ordering a bottle ensure you get the four glasses you paid for without discrepancy.

While I feel like I have made a compelling argument for why it's a safer bet to order a bottle of wine over a glass it can have its drawbacks, especially at a quality establishment. When ordering a bottle you are limited to just one type of wine whereas if you order wine by the glass you can try a number of different things. If the place has a fancy Enomatic wine dispenser they might have some really cool stuff available by the glass and odds are it's still pretty fresh. Also, places that have great reputation for wine are a green light to order by the glass. But the majority of restaurants don't pay enough attention to their glass pours and so most of the time I recommend going for the bottle.

The best case scenario when dining is to have a group of four. It makes it easier to order a bottle because everyone can have one glass and you can try a couple of different wines. Or if you dine with me, a dozen different wines.

Until next time thanks for reading and please pass this along to a friend if you liked it.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director
Cru Wine Specialists


Frank Fazekas said...

So where and what time should we meet for dinner, Nicholas? (Remeber to factor in that I would have to fly in from NJ.)

Frank Fazekas
Columbus, NJ

Nicholas Barth said...

I love it! If your ever in MN look me up. When I'm out in NJ we can connect and tip back a case! Thanks for reading Frank.