Creative samplings encourage wine lovers to sip adventurously.
Admittedly, I make snap judgments on a restaurant’s wine menu based on the number of wines—and the global breadth—available for a small pour. If I have to plunk down a few twenties to try a wine that’s only sold by the bottle, it narrows the chance my palate leaves satisfied.
One of my favorite ways to discover a new wine is sipping through a flight at Thief Wine Shop & Bar in Milwaukee. Co-owner Phil Bilodeau draws upon his wine knowledge to group unexpected offerings within a flight, like “Aromatic Whites” or “Earthy European Reds,” getting me to taste outside my comfort zone without shelling out a lot of cash.
I’m not alone. Many wine-loving customers want to sip more for less. Wine flights, generally 2- or 3-ounce pours of three to four wines that are served either as a set group or created by the customer, meet this need because the typical flight price of $10–$25 is a little more than a glass but a lot less than a bottle.
“It’s a really good value because they get four pours of 2-ounce wines,” says Scott Harper, Master Sommelier and wine director at Bristol Bar and Grille in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The four flights on the menu are rotated every six weeks.
In this cash-crunched economy, it’s a win-win situation: Wine lovers get to try a lot of wine without racking up the bill. “You wouldn’t necessarily buy a bottle of wine and then another,” says Gemma Wren, catering and sales manager at Caxton Grill in London, where there are six flights nightly, with stylish names like “Elevation Flight” and “Velvet Flight.”
At Cornelia Street Café in New York City, which opened 35 years ago but debuted wine flights six years ago, beverage director Michael Manuppelli incorporates approachable wines in the flights. “You want to be diplomatic in creating flights—fruit-forward and higher in acidity, more so than nuanced, higher-priced wines,” he says. Blends are a very popular inclusion in the café’s wine flights.
Peter Kasperski, owner of Cowboy Ciao Wine Bar & Grill in Scottsdale, Arizona, claims to “have accidentally invented the wine flight,” while working at the now-shuttered Steven Restaurant during the early ‘80s. “We had this dessert that just wasn’t moving—a chocolate-candy piece, glazed grapes, and a dessert taco. I suggested we put a trio of dessert wines with it,” he says.
And the lesson lives on: Cowboy Ciao—which boasts an eclectic and expansive 1,800-selection wine list—offers between 13 and 20 flights at any given time. Presentation is key, says Kasperski. A flight is delivered via a special board with information about each wine and slots for three glasses plus indentations for three 3-ounce decanters (allowing the customer to pour his own wine). Flights help move esoteric varieties such as Pineau d’Aunis from France’s Loire Valley out of the cellar, and allow wines with small allotments, like LaPonza Wines Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California), which only produces 58 cases, to be shared with the masses.