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Wine by the Glass is a Tricky Proposition for the Consumer and the Restaurateur;
Ascribing to KISS Theory Can Benefit Both - Keep It Simple, Sommeliers

By Dale Robertson, Houston ChronicleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 04, 2012--Wines served by the glass are a tricky proposition, both for the consumer and the restaurateur. But, by and large, the former tends to be better served if the latter ascribes to the KISS theory.

Keep It Simple, Sommeliers.

While expansive by-the-glass (BTG) programs are admirable for their ambitiousness and also make good reading for the solitary bar fly, they all too often wind up under-delivering because the wines aren't fresh, no matter how sophisticated the preservation system may be. What I find most comforting is a concise list -- 15 to 20 options -- with familiar, reliable labels and prices that stay south of $15.

I've definitely got my go-to sips. Years spent traveling as a sports writer meant lots of late-night sports-bar dining, and I learned early on you could never go wrong with the Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel. Joel Peterson's bell-cow entry-level zin is a match made in bacon-cheeseburger/chicken quesadillas heaven, and vintage variation is minimal.

The Hall-of-Fame winemaker Peterson delivers plenty of fancy, single-vineyard wines these days, but he admits nothing makes him prouder than seeing the Vintner's Blend on a restaurant rack because, he said, "It's a wine I've always liked for every-day drinking."

Full disclosure, though: Peterson told me a couple weeks ago his relatively new Vintner's Blend Petite Sirah has become his current favorite and, in his opinion, could eventually give the zin a run for its money in terms of ubiquitous availability.

Be on the lookout for both, but note that the Vintner's Blend line of wines, which also includes a chardonnay and a cab, have a distinctive new label.

They've also got some serious new competition, especially in the Houston area.

Ever heard of Donati? If not, you will.

Veteran local rep Randall Pettit has taken over as the sales manager for the expanding California winery and he's pounding the pavement hard to get these high-quality, value-priced wines from Paicines -- it's a small appellation east of Monterrey -- on as many by-the-glass lists as he can.

Donati's Sorelle Per Sempre Chardonnay, Claret and Cabernet Sauvignon all out-perform their under $20 price points, which make them good fits for BTG programs because restaurateurs traditionally love being able to charge for a single glass about what they forked over for the entire bottle.

But in places fortunate enough to go through lots of juice that model is changing, bringing prices down and making nicer wines available for BTG purchase. At Reef, where none of the 15 house pours are more than $12, owner Bill Floyd says he rarely has to throw out wine, although Saturday-night BTG leftovers go into the sauce pots on Monday because Reef is closed Sunday.

Reef is among the nearly 20 restaurants -- ranging from Au Petit Paris to Del Frisco's -- that have embraced the easy-drinking Donati Claret as a BTG. (The merlot-centric six-grape Bordeaux-style blend is $19 retail for the whole bottle at Houston Wine Merchant.)

The Sorelle per Sempre chard, which earned a favorable reaction from members of my recent tasting panel, seems to be catching on as well.

Why? Simple. Tasty wine, tasty tariff.

Floyd, for his part, has long personally championed the merits of the Alexander Valley Vineyard Cabernet as a reference-standard BTG wine, also selling gallons at his Little Big's and El Real, the Tex-Mex emporium where it's the only red wine available either by the glass or bottle.

Other favorite Floyd house pours include the "varietally correct" wines from Rodney Strong and Benziger, two labels I've frequently sought out myself when a single glass is all that's needed to calm the nerves and sooth the soul.


(c)2012 the Houston Chronicle

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