A glass of wine

"Use thou a little wine for thy stomach's sake," saith St. Paul, and these days, when blood alcohol levels in excess of .08 percent can land you in the cooler, common sense saith likewise. Unfortunately for Seattle diners-out, taking a little wine isn't all that easy. Wine-by-the-glass lists in many Seattle restaurants are painfully short. And drinking what's listed can often be painful as well. Why should this be? Partly because a lot of restaurants see by-the-glass as a chance to buy plonk so inexpensive that even with a hefty markup it still looks like a bargain. But Brasa co-owner (and wine buyer) Brian Hill suspects that it's often because restaurateurs assume anyone ordering by-the-glass is a wine beginner who won't be comfortable ordering anything not already familiar. The answer: Hire a knowledgeable wine manager, and make sure staff is trained to help customers choose. But that too costs money, and, as wine merchant Dan McCarthy points out, the local restaurant scene has been losing such personnel to other markets that know how to value their talent—to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and points east. This is not to say that Seattle is devoid of places where wine by the glass is central to the dining experience. The wine list at the wildly popular Asian-fusion restaurant Monsoon is a great example. With this kind of cooking, there aren't any traditional wine-food pairings to fall back on, so Eric Bahn's choices demonstrate remarkable imagination as well as a refined palate. But some restaurants concentrating on more traditional cuisines manage to offer by-the-glass selections that don't fall into clich頯r convention. McCarthy, who has no competitive axe to grind, particularly admires the by-the-glass list at Hill's Brasa; at Campagne (selected by Mme. la directrice Shawn Mead); and at Bill Frank's Place Pigalle. Even a menu as aggressively classique as Le Pichet's is enhanced by Joanne Herron's imaginative wine selections. Why shouldn't your favorite bistro do as much? Some restaurateurs claim they can't afford to serve more than a few wines by the glass because too much product is lost through spoilage. If this is so, it's only evidence that the "product" isn't being intelligently presented. Anyone willing to take a flyer on an unfamiliar dish will be happy to try an unfamiliar wine to go with it, even a pricey one. It just better be the right one. Glass, bottle, or carafe? E-mail us at

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