So does variety. Many restaurants around the country are going outof their way to make wine choices appealing and plentiful and full ofsize options. From modest to high-ticket restaurants, wine by the glassofferings, from ten to two hundred wines, in flights or in differentsized portions, are catching on. Flights of wine, that is, small portions offered as part of aunifying theme (region, varietal or style), started out in 1980"swine bars and have slowly worked their way into the main stream. In NewYork City, Blue fin Offers, of all things, a flight of Maderia. Also inNew York, Enoteca I Trulli has a huge local following for theirintriguing and rotating groupings of Italian flights, Oakland, CA"sA Cote has added a flight menu to their cocktail list (as well asoffering fifty wines by the glass), and New York"s two Flute Barsoffer a quartet of champagne by the flights. Fly Away Flights, in fact, are the biggest portion of Chicago"s Bin36"s revenue. Partner and wine director Brian Duncan says they beatfood and wines by the glass on a daily basis and they serve three mealsa day. "It"s the draw here. We offer four wines in each flightchoosing from fifty wines and ten flights. People can order a 6 oz pourof wine or custom design their flights and the range goes from$12.85-$17.85." Bin 36 promotes the wines by listing each from driest, to fruitiestand lightest to fullest. "I give customers a cheat sheet, tell themwhy I chose to lay out the flight this way and what to expect. Idescribe the wine and let them know they can agree or tell me ifI"m completely out of my mind. All night long you see peopleswapping glasses, taking notes and making discoveries." It"slike listening to cd"s before you buy them.

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Duncan advises against most preservation systems as they impartfunky aromas and flavors, he believes. In sync with many others, he saysthe best preservation is to move the wine and pour it to customers. In San Francisco, Debbie Zachareas"s restaurant Bacar has beencreated as a love poem to wine. She doesn"t offer flights but doesprovide just everything else. At Bacar, all the bases are coveredthrough offering a staggering 100 rotating wines in 2 oz. and 5 oz.pours, as well as in 250ml and 500 ml decanters "We don"t pour cult cabs by the glass; if people wantthose, they sell just fine off of the list. We offer really specialwines like a "95 brunello for $16.75. That gets peopleexcited." She explains that her program helps people who don"twant to commit to a bottle, or desire different pairings with eachcourse. She cautions that with a big by-the-glass program, you must poursmart. At Bacar, with 300 covers nightly and a sizable bar crowd, theycan move lots of wine from their 1400 selection list. "There has tobe a good mix that myself, my staff and sommeliers are excited about aswell as the customer comfort items. Wines that are too esoteric or tooexpensive tend to be overlooked. What doesn"t work is offering twohigh-end Italian wines by the glass on the same night, like the brunelloor barolo at the same time. Too close a choice." Bacar"s glasssales are so successful, they constitute 35-40% of wine sales. Saving Sauvignon While it might seem that waste would be a down-side of this sort ofprogram, the pros say that they move more wine and pour off less. Thepreferred method of preservation is either a squirt of nitrogen or argon but the real favorite sort of preservation is to sell everything andhave little left over. Babbo is a restaurant that takes risks and wins, the site of thequartino"s greatest success in the US. In Italy, glass carafefrequently held ordinary jug wine, but as David Lynch, past editor ofCheers, author, with restaurateur, and Babbo co-owner Joe Bastianich, of"Vino Italiano", and now Babbo"s wine director, says,"You can"t order a glass here, it"s only quartinos, abouttwenty four choices, and we don"t offer crap. We offer the goodstuff. Our price range for 250ml -- a glass and a half -- is between $11and $25. Most people who care would be thrilled to order a $25 barolorather then the whole bottle at $100."
"The premise is multi-faceted," Lynch says. "Theidea is that a diner can control the wine in their glass. Some like alittle smidge, others like to fill it up to the brim. The other issue isquality control. A quartino is a third of a bottle. We"re insuringquality because we use a bottle of wine more rapidly and not lettingthem die." He"s observed that some customers complain that they only wantone little glass, and get confused when that is not an option."Look," he says, "we all want to drink more than aglass...they don"t know they want more than a glass -- but they do.So, if they"re dining with someone, we suggest splitting a quartinoand see how that goes. The concept really allows for greater food andwine pairing options; for example, if someone is having branzino(striped sea bass) and the other short ribs you can have differentwines. A two-top usually splits three or four quartinos over the courseof a three-course meal. It"s a nice contribution to the check andthe customer has gotten a terrific experience." Babbo required a distinctive delivery system. "We make itceremonial. We pour the bottle into the quartino -- our specialtear-drop shaped beaker -- up to the red mark that indicates the correctmls, and present it on a tray to the table. It"s customized andshowy. The message is that we"re serious about every wine that wepour." Lynch doesn"t worry about waste. "The staff is on top ofwhat needs to be moved at the end of the night. However, we argon theopen bottles and fridge them and discard everything open after twodays." Share and Share Alike Everyone who serves different sizes believes it encourages sharingand a family-style dinning attitude. That"s what Joanne Herron seesat her Seattle restaurant, Le Pichet, where her little carafes arecalled pichets and the attitude is French, not Italian. With few exceptions all wines on her forty-something bottle listare available in three sizes; by-the-glass, as well as two sizes ofpichets -- the pitchers found in French countryside bistros. A frillpichets holds two-thirds of a bottle, the demi-pichets, two glasses. Shecounts on getting 5 1/2 glasses per bottle and prices the pichets,respectively, at 2/3 and 1/3 of the bottle price. "There"s no real price advantage to getting the fullbottle," she says. "I want to encourage people to try wine andI price accordingly. As a result our wine sales are very high. Peoplewho are intimidated about buying a bottle can do it in incrementsinstead, and they can feel good about being adventurous. Only people whoare in recovery don"t drink wine when they come here." And waste? Because Le Pichet sells so many different sizes of wine,if they open up a bottle to pour a pichet, it gets sold by the glass inan hour or two. "We have very little left over or waste." Passes at Glasses Perhaps the most focused and simple by-the-glass program thrives atNYC"s Rhone. Except some Champagnes, Rhone"s list is 100%Rhone with tantalizing choices, from a Lirac to a Hermitage, from $6 to$20 per glass. With options like that, diners feel like going forglasses rather than choosing a bottle and it gives the regulars a niftyexcuse to come back several times a week. In New Orleans, Cuvee dishes up contemporary creole cuisine with aspicy attitude and also do a significant by-the glass program in onesize. Wine director Jeff Kundinger carries four-to-five Champagnes and,like Rhone, about twenty wines by-the-glass, including unusual whitesfrom the Basque. Yes, much of the sell is by hand but is bolstered bytheir varietally correct Riedel glasses. Sales of half-bottles are growing, says Kundinger. "I"vegot fifty half-bottles which I just moved to the front of the list rightafter the glasses, Our sales doubled overnight. A table of three or fourwill treat the half bottles like their own private wine and foodpairings. This summer when we"re more local than tourist, I"llbe experimenting with flights of wines with each course. I"mpouring three 1 1/2 ounce pours so people can experiment and play." Bin 36"s Duncan summed up the new size trend. "It"ssounds silly, but important to remember that we"re in thehospitality business." And offering choices in your wine programthat accommodate your customer is nor only hospitable, but alsoprofitable. Alice Feiring writes for the New York Times, Departures and othermagazines.
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Feiring, Alice
May 1, 2002
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