Visiting my family over the holiday weekend, my sister and I wandered down to a local bar after dinner for a drink. It’s a small town, and while this particular place is one of the cleanlier establishments, it has a very casual vibe with TVs showing college football, a popcorn machine, and some comfy leather chairs. I ordered a pint of beer and my sister a glass of red. But when the drinks arrived, the bartender told my sister that they were out of the wine she had ordered and gave her a glass of some other red wine, on the house. While it was a really nice gesture of the bartender, the good intentions were diminished after she tried the wine.
“It tastes funny.”
Sure enough, I had a sip and it smelled and tasted like vinegar. Who knows how long that opened bottled had floated around behind the bar before finding its way to her glass. However long it was, it was clearly way too long.
It’s not terribly uncommon to get bad wine by the glass, and it’s why I generally don’t order it. When you open a bottle of wine, the wine comes in contact with the air, causing it to oxidize. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, older wines do well with a bit of oxidation which is why people decant wine bottles about a half hour before serving them. However, after a couple of days you’ll begin to pick up a distinct vinegar flavor to your wine, and this means your wine has been opened too long. When ordering wine by the glass, you really have no idea when the bottle was opened, and while busy establishments usually have enough turn over to maintain fresh bottles, it’s really luck of the draw. But this could all change.
Winemakers and restaurant owners have been tentatively introducing wine on tap, served alongside beer through the keg system. Because wine from a keg doesn’t come in contact with the air as it’s served, it remains fresh for months. It also saves producers in bottling and shipping costs, without sacrificing flavor. (In fact, some experts argue that the flavor from kegs is actually better since the wine doesn’t undergo “bottle shock”.) And rather than keeping the red wine floating around on top of the bar with the sambuca, the temperature of the keg could be controlled so it could be served at a slightly cooler, proper temperature.
So far there there are only a handful of establishments offering wine on tap, mostly in New York City, Los Angeles, and one in British Columbia, but hopefully the trend will continue. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ceremony and circumstance that calls for opening a bottle of wine. But for the evenings where a bottle is just too much commitment, it would be nice to know you could have a lovely, fresh glass, drawn to order.
Via the Globe and Mail and NYMag.