Small Pours Leave Little to Whine About


This is where the fun begins, as drinkers have the ability to pivot among wines without buying bottles.

I’ll admit I’ve judged a restaurant by its wine program. I’m not talking about how many countries are represented or the number of varietals, but the depth in by-the-glass selections. Maybe I want a crisp Soave to wake up my palate with a salad starter, then a sultry Malbec with steak. Furthermore, if I’m dining solo, or with one other person, a bottle might be too much wine. Instead, we want one or two glasses each.

Beefing up a by-the-glass list is a sure way to attract wine lovers. “By-the-glass is what drives a wine program. It’s a doorway to your wine program as a whole,” explains Christopher Birnie-Visscher, sommelier at db Bistro Moderne in Miami.

Deciding on the slim number of wines to pour by the glass can be a challenge. Birnie-Visscher suggests choosing “varietals customers know or are comfortable ordering without asking you” along with “esoteric options,” such as a Gamay from El Dorado County in California. Consider seasonality, too. A Provence rosé that pairs well with summer salads won’t mesh with a beef stew in February.

In building a by-the-glass list, it can be tempting to put your best foot forward by offering dozens. However, this is an opportunity to host a curated list featuring only the best of the best. The “magic number,” says Birnie-Visscher, should be between 12 and 15. Opt for five or six each of reds and whites, and a handful of dessert wines such as Sauternes, Port, or late harvest. “Maybe 12 (of the inclusions) are regions people feel comfortable with, while others are new, up-and-coming, and trendy,” Birnie-Visscher says. “You’re not getting too in-depth. You’re not going to waste wine.”

What you don’t want to do is offer too many options. Years ago, I broke out in a sweat at Kazimierz World Wine Bar in Scottsdale, Arizona, faced with a 2,000-selection-deep wine list. A friend and I were angling for a bottle to share but spent more time consulting the list than we did sipping our choice.

“We try to create a good cross-section,” says Mitch Einhorn, owner of Lush Wine & Spirits in Chicago, “that works on a lot of different flavor profiles.” His wine list of 10 selections, in fact, builds on the food menu. There is always a sparkling wine, a white and red, a rosé, and a dessert or fortified wine. Eschewing the typical 5-ounce pour, Lush offers a carafe (a third of a bottle).

Certainly, there is the risk of wine going bad when you have 100 bottles open and are selling them by the glass. Wine-dispensing machines such as Enomatic, Micro Matic, and Cruvinet—all with longer preservation times—have helped solve that problem. At Napa East Wine Lounge in Nashua, New Hampshire, 100 wines are stored in four 25-bottle units.


Add new comment