A pour of some­thing new

Wine by the glass is a chance to ex­per­i­ment and can be bet­ter than a bot­tle.

Los Angeles Times - - SATURDAY - By S. Irene Vir­bila irene.vi­bila@la­times.com

How of­ten do you run into a friend and de­cide to have a glass of wine to­gether? Depend­ing on where you go, you could get some­thing in­cred­i­bly de­li­cious and sur­pris­ing, or some­thing unin­spir­ing — or medi­ocre and over­priced.

It’s no se­cret that for years restau­rants have been buy­ing cheap wine, pour­ing it by the glass, and jack­ing up the price. The per­cep­tion was that any­body who opted for wine by the glass was ei­ther not much of a drinker or un­so­phis­ti­cated about wine. For many restau­rants, the wine-by-the-glass pro­gram was an af­ter­thought, just an­other way to make money. That’s not nec­es­sar­ily the case any­more.

Caro­line Styne and Suzanne Goin opened A.O.C., one of L.A.’s first ded­i­cated wine bars, in 2002. “From the be­gin­ning,” says Styne, “the fo­cus has al­ways been on hav­ing re­ally great wines by the glass, things I want to drink.” Her hus­band doesn’t drink, so when the two go out to din­ner, she or­ders by the glass. “It’s dis­ap­point­ing when a restau­rant puts a throw­away out there as a wine by the glass, in­stead of some­thing re­ally in­ter­est­ing.”

Styne is not alone in tak­ing her wine-by-the-glass pro­gram very se­ri­ously. Many good restau­rants of­fer 20, 50 — even 150 wines by the glass. They buy a case or two of each wine, and when that par­tic­u­lar wine is gone, re­fresh the list with some­thing else. Pours are more gen­er­ous too.

Cer­tainly, it’s a lot more in­tim­i­dat­ing to buy a bot­tle than to buy a glass. Restau­rants and wine bars with solid by-the-glass pro­grams en­cour­age cus­tomers to try some­thing un­fa­mil­iar. “It makes dining out a lot more fun than it was be­fore,” says Clau­dio Blotta of Bar­brix in Sil­ver Lake. “You can try a va­ri­etal or a wine pro­ducer you don’t know with­out break­ing the bank.”

(About that bank: Make sure when the server waxes po­etic about the Caber­net or Neb­bi­olo the restau­rant is pour­ing by the glass, you hear the price be­fore you or­der. You can al­ways look it up on your smart­phone via wine-searcher.com or an­other site be­fore you or­der that glass of wine. If the markup is more than three times the re­tail price, you’re bet­ter off order­ing a bot­tle.)

But how do you choose from a list 150 wines long? To nar­row the op­tions to three or four — or some­times just one — Matthew Kaner of Bar Covell asks ques­tions: Would you like the wine to be fruity or not fruity? Lighter in body or more full­bod­ied? By do­ing that, he tries to fig­ure out what sort of wine would be right. And he’s smart enough to re­al­ize it’s not about him. “I think wine di­rec­tors have trou­ble un­der­stand­ing it should be all about the cus­tomers. The ideal is to pro­pose wines that are not only our pas­sion but what peo­ple are look­ing for.”

“The beauty of the con­cept,” says Styne, “is that you’re not mar­ried to a bot­tle of wine all night.”

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

ORDER­ING wine by the glass, as at Bar­brix in Sil­ver Lake, is a way to sam­ple new vin­tages with­out hav­ing to com­mit to a full bot­tle.

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