Story by Dave Eckert
Allow me to let you in on one of the worst kept secrets around. I love wine – all colors, nationalities, weight, and grape varieties. One of the great pleasures of wine is its diversity. Every vintage is different. Each grape variety expresses itself uniquely based on a myriad of factors from clone to climate, winemaker to vineyard manager, appellation to soil.
Another joy of wine is the unending journey of unearthing its knowledge. I realized decades ago that no matter how much wine I tried, how many producers I knew, how many regions I toured, how many grape varieties I sampled, or now many bottles I had in my cellar, there would always be more to taste and an infinite amount more to learn. Of course, the best way to experience wine is with food. While wine on its own is lovely, the right wine paired with the right cuisine can be life-changing. Wine and food epiphanies don’t occur often, but when they do, wine lovers share them, often in hushed tones, with an almost spiritual reverence. Most wine drinkers I know, myself included, don’t chase those experiences as they are impossible to predict and maddeningly hard to orchestrate. No, most of us just want a good glass of wine paired with solid, fresh, and hopefully local cuisine. That brings me to the point of all this – wines by the glass, the best, most affordable way to enjoy the art of food and wine matching.
“As far as curation, I think the best thing we can do is to make a list that has approachable offerings in both price and familiarity of varietal or region, and some wines which the average consumer would be surprised to learn that they like,” local sommelier Josh North shared. “I like to choose wines that will be paired with food, thereby giving a natural introduction to the wine that any member of the staff can give but that wine geeks will also get a kick out of.”
North plies his trade at Green Dirt and Freshwater, two excellent restaurants with terrific wines by the glass programs. “Freshwater uses the Coravin system. I really appreciate what Calvin Davis, Freshwater’s chef and owner selects for our reserve glass list, as well as the concept in general. We have poured Cote-Rotie, Lopez de Heredia, Barolos, and Amarones, as well as verticals of York Creek Meritage.”
I, for one, think it’s terrific that diners get the chance to experience those wines without the expense, or risk, of purchasing a bottle. North says he personally loves places like Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen where he goes to try several glasses of wine. He admires Tannin’s ability to have a large by-the-glass program with minimal waste.
“I think the short answer is that a great restaurant wine by the glass list makes me want to try one more glass than I really should!” Tannin’s Wine Manager, Barry Tunnel, told me.
Joking aside, Tunnel says the correct answer to building a great wine by the glass list is unique to each restaurant and bar. “I’ve found wine by the glass lists that I’ve really liked with four selections and some I don’t with 100, and vice versa. I think the most important question is whether the wine selection by the glass complements the food, atmosphere, and overall experience. If those elements are in harmony, you’re probably going to have a great time at that establishment,” Tunnel shared.
Like North, Tunnel seeks to pick wines that complement his restaurant’s menu. Serving the wine at the right temperature, in a nice glass, and at a fair price helps heighten the wine-drinking experience at Tannin. Tunnel also changes his wines seasonally, adding more rose in the spring and summer and fuller-bodied reds and fortified wines in the late fall and winter. “That provides the customers more choices to the wines they naturally gravitate to at the time of the year, and also ensures that the wines complement the types of dishes that we’re serving,” Tunnel said.
Overall, though, Tunnel says the best sign of a great by the glass list is a busy restaurant full of people enjoying food and wine whether it’s “Chambertin or Chambourcin.”
“When designing a by-the-glass list you first have to start out with what types of wine you want. You have to put all the heavy hitters on there: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Malbec, etc.,” Seth Welch, General Manager of Leawood’s Pig & Finch Restaurant shared. “Then you can fill it out with blends, and for sure, a sparkling wine or two.”
Welch is more of a craft beer guy, even hosting his own craft beer festival. But he knows his wines, and it shows on the Pig & Finch list, especially, I believe, in his by-the-glass selections. “I recently changed our Sauvignon Blanc by the glass because I tasted this beautiful Marlborough SB by Jules Taylor. Great fruit up front, hits all the signature Marlborough notes, but has a unique complexity and length. It drinks like a $40 bottle, but it’s priced appropriately for our (by the) glass list. I think it’s better than most of our bottle offerings,” Welch said.
At the end of the day, Welch offers this sage advice, “You just have to keep tasting and be really selective.”
Words to live by. I’ll be over soon for a glass or two and we can discuss! Cheers.