The Bar Code: Tips for Ordering Wines by the Glass

For many diners, glass-pour wines are an afterthought. They’re often viewed as less interesting and “fancy” than bottle selections, but they can play a fun and useful part in your dining experience. Glass-pour selection can vary, and some restaurants are more creative and expansive in their offerings, but there are plenty of reasons to opt for a wine by the glass:

• Say you and a friend are having three or four different courses. Trying to find a bottle of wine, or even two, that will go with all that food could be challenging, but pairing each course with a glass pour is easier. Even better, more restaurants are offering half-glasses of wine, a great option for those of you who might not want to drink an entire glass with each course. Even if it’s not explicitly offered, it’s worth asking if you can get a half-glass.

• They’re also often a great chance to try wine from a lesser-known region or varietal. Many Seattle-area restaurants are playing with unusual wines on their glass-pour lists, which can be fun for the adventurous drinker. Why not try a Corbières (a red from Southern France), a dolcetto (a red from Northern Italy), a Rueda (a Spanish white), or a grüner veltliner (an Austrian white). Of course most lists are still dominated by cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but increasingly, you can find something new to try.

• When in doubt, get a taste. Restaurants should always be willing to let you taste glass-pour wines, both to keep you happy and to eliminate waste. Be reasonable; don’t ask to try more than two or so wines, but put that palate to work!

• On the downside, you’re almost certainly paying a higher markup with glass-pour wine than with bottled wine. Most bottled wine is priced at two to three times the wholesale cost, while glass-pour wines are often marked up four or five times. Partially that’s because there’s more waste with glass pours: spills; overpours; having to dump wine that’s been open too long; possibly employees helping themselves mid-shift. It’s also because most people expect to pay $8–$12 for a glass of wine, regardless of the cost. Some savvy (or exploitative, possibly) owners know they can get four or five glasses of $9 wine from a bottle that cost them $8–$10 wholesale. Hey, it’s not as if they’re making any money on the food!

• Also, glass pours can vary in quality. It’s hard to know exactly when that bottle was opened, and storage can vary from restaurant to restaurant. Be wary of restaurants that offer 15-plus wines by the glass without a sophisticated storage system (they’re usually large and easy to see, often in the bar area). Plus, most restaurants will mention it on the wine list if they use one.

A glass pour will rarely take the place of a really lovely bottle of wine, and shouldn’t be expected to. If you’re going to have a few glasses of the same thing, I’d encourage you to consider a bottle. You’ll be getting a better value at the very least. That said, glass pours are a nice alternative when pairing and experimenting.

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