Better by the glass

Are the days of drinking wine by the bottle in a restaurant numbered?

Increased awareness of drinking and driving, and consumers experimenting more with variety, should result in restaurants also stepping up their ‘wine by the glass’ offering. Sadly this section remains neglected on most menus.

While hip and trendy wine bars are growing in popularity, the general lack of creativity and versatility of wine by the glass offerings at many restaurants is astounding. With the exception of a few, wine by the glass lists usually comprise mass produced house wines and products from big brand ‘bullies’. The price per glass is often even higher than the retail price per bottle at the supermarket.

South African sommelier Higgo Jacobs believes that restaurants should refrain from just listing generic recommendations of big suppliers by the glass. “A good, interesting wine by the glass offering doesn’t necessarily mean more wines on offer, but rather a better and carefully considered selection,” he says.

Raising the bar

Belthazar Restaurant at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town set out to create the largest ‘wine by the glass’ wine bar in the world. Senior beverage manager André Lourens explains that they currently serve more than 250 wines by the glass, with their complete wine list consisting of more than 700 options. “Our current wine by the glass selection comprises limited releases, rare finds, older vintages, organic and sustainable wines, unusual cultivars and blends, as well as verticals of the same wine,” he says.

André believes that wine by the glass is a great way to give exposure to various wines and wineries, while it also provides an opportunity to educate and interact with clients, suggesting wines to go with individual dishes. “Due to the heightened awareness around drinking and driving, we’ve definitely also seen an increase in the demand for wine by the glass,” he says.

International perspective

The Yeatman in Oporto, Portugal, is a great international example and when chatting to wine director, Beatriz Machado, during her recent visit to South Africa, she revealed that the extensive wine by the glass offering at this hotel and restaurant is considered groundbreaking and something relatively new to the city.

The Yeatman hotel has 82 rooms – with one producer sponsoring each of the rooms – and these 82 wines are all offered by the glass at the restaurant. The wines aren’t necessarily categorised according to cultivar or style, but rather in terms of classics, collectibles, newcomers, limited editions, etc. The list is accompanied by a seasonal in-house wine journal, with descriptions of each wine.

Beatriz explains that these descriptions speak to all types of consumers, providing not only general information on the flavour of the wine and the story of the producer, but also more in-depth detail about the area of origin and the terroir.

With regard to pricing, Beatriz explains that they work on a price range, which remains the same for all wines within a category. “Price is the most important decisionmaker.

When you take it off the table, guests will look at other, more important best online casino information to make their decision,” she says.

When it comes to serving temperature, they aim to keep it simple – “we serve white wines at 7°C and red wines at 17°C,” she says. Glassware is important and Beatriz uses only handmade Riedel glasses, selected per wine style. “Wine needs to be served in a proper outfit and context. My job is to put the right wine in the right glass, at the right temperature.”

Constant control

But why are so many restaurants reluctant to expand their wine by the glass offering? Higgo believes that the majority of South African restaurants are scared to serve good quality wine by the glass, primarily with wastage costs in mind.

According to André, the secret to successfully offering an extensive wine by the glass selection, is constant control. “Our nitrogen preserver system enables us to keep wines free from oxidation for close to a month. We date the wine after opening and taste it weekly to ensure it is in good condition. Opened bottles are also used as tasters to encourage sales,” he says.

“When a wine approaches its sell-by date, we use it for staff training or cooking. Unfortunately there will always be some wastage, but if your costing and control is correct, the positives far outweigh the negatives.” In addition to technological equipment, Higgo believes there is an opportunity for premium wine producers to package their wines in smart bag-in-boxes. “Due to the lower oxidation risk, it will be popular in restaurants to prevent wastage,” he says. South Africa may slowly be moving in the right direction, with more wine bars and better wine by the glass offerings becoming available, but according to André there is much room for improvement.

“There is unfortunately still a massive difference between wine by the glass offerings at ‘higherend’ restaurants and those of ‘average’ restaurants,” he says. “In South Africa we are blessed with a dynamic, thriving wine industry, and hospitality should be doing its part in supporting, educating and maximising exposure hereof.”