Wines by the glass are one way to drink outside your comfort zone. But it may cost you.
Wine by the glass is risky business.
Heat, oxygen and time are among an open bottle’s enemies. Some tannic reds improve with a day of breathing, but for most wines, there’s nothing good about spending the day uncorked behind a sweaty bar.
“Without giving names, there are definitely places that are more critical than others about the state of their wines by the glass,” says Randy Clement of Silver Lake Wine.
A stable of opened bottles in plain sight is a warning sign, as is a lengthy glass list in a slow establishment. Clement suggests asking for a taste before ordering.
There are a few ways to keep the pours fresh, the easiest of which is being blessed with high turnover. An old bottle at Café Stella? “It doesn’t exist,” according to Francois Renaud, general manager and wine director. “After three days, I give it to the kitchen.”
Campanile takes a more hands-on approach, according to general manager and wine director Jay Perrin. Pricey, slower-moving bottles get marked with a date, gassed with nitrogen each night and sampled before each pour. If it doesn’t pass the sniff test, it doesn’t get served.
But most aggressive is AOC. The wine bar has the largest custom-built Cruvinet system in L.A. As temperature-controlled vino is dispensed through a spout, it’s instantly displaced in the bottle with inert gas. Oxygen doesn’t touch the wine, so it never has a chance to oxidize.
Nevertheless, it isn’t flawless.
Although Cruvinet says a bottle will keep for six weeks, AOC owner and wine director Caroline Styne says the limit is more like a week to 10 days.
And if by-the-glass doesn’t already seem dubious, it’s no secret that they often sport embarrassing margins. Prices for cheaper pours can approach full retail for a bottle. “It’s an area for us to make money,” says one restaurateur who requested anonymity.
However, wine glasses occasionally can contain great opportunities. When Perrin got hold of the 100-point 2001 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes, a bottle now crossing the $600 mark at retail, he put it on the by-the-glass list for $35. “I sold that at cost; we made absolutely no money off of it,” he says. “I wanted people to taste that wine.”
HEAD OF THE GLASS
624 S. La Brea Ave.
Stemware: Riedel across the board. If you want a Spiegelau balloon glass for your tannic monster red, just ask.
Most unusual red: Canale Grande Barbera/Bonarda blend, the rare red that gets a slight secondary fermentation in bottle. $12
Most unusual white: Getariako Txakolina, a perfectly frizzante summer white from Spain’s Basque region. $9
Off-list: They don’t believe in it; everything is available to everyone at a clearly marked price.
1968 Hillhurst Ave.
Most unusual red: Teroldego, a grape from Trentino in Northern Italy. Dry fruit and a smokey taste. $9
Most unusual white: Another Trentino, Muller Thurga. A blend of Reisling and Austria’s Trollinger grape. $9
Off-list: Always something rare from Italy or France, but you have to ask.
8022 W. Third St.
Most unusual red: Terra Dei Re aglianico del Vulture, an Italian red made from the seldom-seen Aglianico grape. $12
Most unusual white: Bodegas Naia Naiades, a Spanish wine aged in French oak from the Loire Valley. $16
Off-list: Nothing, but do you really need more?
724 Vine St.
Stemware: Austrian crystal from Innware
Most unusual red: Lomazzi Solise Erindisi Negroamaro. This grape usually makes massive wines, but it’s restrained and structured in Lomazzi’s hands. $8
Most unusual white: Francisco Alonzo Pedralonga Albarino. Unfiltered, unoaked and surprisingly huge. $10
Off-list: Delicious stuff lurks behind the counter for regulars.
36 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
Pours: More than 80
Stemware: Reidel, even for water
Most unusual red: Steltzner Pinotage Stag’s Leap District. Legend has it that Steltzner had to import it from South Africa in a suitcase. $17
Most unusual white: P. Chermette white Beaujolais, a rare and buttery Chardonnay. $13
Off-list: Ask the bartender.
The Little Door
8164 Third St.
Pours: Nearly 90
Stemware: Crystal; pricier pours get bigger glasses.
Most unusual red: Feiler-Artinger Blaufrankisch, an Austrian oddball that falls between Pinot Noir and Pinotage. $13
Most unusual white: Baileyana Edna Valley Chardonnay, the minerally antithesis of most California Chardonnays. $10
Off-list: Nothing, but new labels come in all the time.