For so long, and at most restaurants, the wine by the glass selection would be a meager one at best. Well, fret no longer. The wine by the glass selection has never been better in Calgary.
Maybe it was the tighter laws against drinking and driving, maybe it’s that there are so many great sommeliers here, and maybe it is just that better restaurants are offering better wines, but my first look on a wine list is always at the by the glass offerings. In restaurants with great by the glass programs, I am a fan of just asking for a glass of something interesting. Surprise me. I don’t even want to know if it’s a white or red coming out. Tell me what it is afterwards.
With better by the glass menus in Calgary these days, we asked four of the city’s leading sommeliers and restaurateurs for their take on wines by the glass. Jackie Cooke, proprietor and sommelier at Avec Bistro, Leslie Echino, restaurant director of Blink Restaurant and Bar, Erika Tocco, wine director of Vin Room, and John Robarts, operations manager of Cibo, Posto, and Bonterra Trattoria.
What do you look for in selecting wine by the glass?
Jackie Cooke – First and foremost, balanced wine that pairs fondly with food, also of exceptional value and character. We sell a lot of wine from classic regions such as Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux, but Ilike to throw a ringer in there for people who want to be adventurous, such as a tannat we are pouring from Uruguay at the moment.
Leslie Echino – I love a wine that is varietally correct, first and foremost. I don’t love the obscure, but I do love something fun that tells a story. When I come back from travelling to a wine region, I look for wines that are amazing value for the price, and where I can tell the customer all about the wine/town/people who make the wine.
Erika Tocco – I look for unique wines that are not offered in other establishments, wines that are not the mainstream selection. I want to offer our guests wines that are good value from all price points and from everywhere on the globe. About 10% of our list is built around well-known labels, we like to focus on the small producers and of course unique rare varieties that are hard to find. Diversity is key.
John Robarts – The first word is value, any wine on our lists have to over-deliver for the price. Then we consider what else is on the list, where will a new wine fit in with the other wines?
What do you think a good by the glass program should look like?
Leslie Echino – They should have variety, good value, be fresh and interesting. Nothing is worse than seeing the same wines in restaurants, it’s so boring. I also get upset when I feel like I am being ripped off. The consumer is a much more wine savvy nowadays and no one likes to pay too much for a glass of wine.
Erika Tocco – Our wine selection includes 112 wines by the glass. To my knowledge we offer the largest glass pour program to our guests in the entire country. Every month we offer something rare and very special on a monthly basis as well. For instance, a few months ago we offered a super Tuscan flight on the Enomatic: we poured Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia by the glass.
How often do you rotate your by the glass offerings?
Jackie Cooke – I change our list very frequently in general, as our list is small. Sometimes the wine list changes twice a month and some selections stay on for many months. When we first opened, I had more new world wines on the list, thinking they would be more popular. But that wasn’t the case, so I adjust accordingly. We sold WAY more Sancerre than Californian sauvignon blanc by the glass, even when new world wine was less expensive.
Leslie Echino – I am always excited by new wines, therefore the menu changes quite often. There are some winemakers like Pascal Marchand who is a French Canadian, making wine in Burgundy that I always have on my glass list, or Alex Gambal. Then, I like to bring things on as they strike my fancy. I recently added Gramercy Cellars grenache/syrah/cinsault blend from Washington, as it was so yummy! It is a little on the expensive side, but well worth the price.
Erika Tocco – I rotate the program twice a year, where I will replace 25-30 wines by the glass. I also change the list periodically between those two times. Sometimes I will find a great little gem but will only be able to buy four or so cases of it which I have to split between each of our locations (our Mission and our west location have the same wine menu) and then replace it with something else sooner.
John Robarts – At Posto, we have 10 whites and 10 reds by the glass and we change them as needed. Probably at least one wine a week gets changed. Many of our wines by the glass are only available in limited quantities, which mean that once they are gone, we need to find something else. For Bonterra and Cibo, we change the list about once or twice a year.
Some of the drawbacks of wine by the glass for a restaurant?
Jackie Cooke –If you have a solid program, spoilage shouldn’t be an issue, but it is always a concern.
John Robarts – Wastage and spillage of course. To help reduce the waste, we write down the date and time that the wines are opened for the by the glass menu. Our staff is expected to know the wines well, and to know how the wines should taste if there are any problems or if it is time to open a fresh bottle.
Is there anything customers should know about by the glass programs that they might not know?
Jackie Cooke – Wines by the glass say a lot about the person choosing them. A good, interesting list should reflect the palate, personality and passion of the list’s creator.
Erika Tocco – I think a lot of customers still play it “safe” when they are out dining. I think it is great to be able to try a variety of different wines rather than committing to a full bottle. Wine is an artistic and scientific expression that has so many facets it is great to be able to try different selections when out. Also clients should use their servers/sommeliers more: we are trying those wines all the time so it’s great to rely on us for expert advice when deciding on something to drink.
How do you price wines by the glass? Are they significantly more than by the bottle? Is the wastage much higher?
Leslie Echino – My wines by the glass are priced to sell, some are marked up more, but the higher-end the wine is, the lower the mark up. Usually the inexpensive wines are marked up the most. I don’t go through much waste with glass pours, but I’ve also spent 6 years building up trust with the customer regarding my wines.
Erika Tocco – Pricing, well for us it is different. Wastage is not really high for us because of the Enomatics and they pour perfectly. We price out our ounce pours so that they are all equal to the price of a bottle. We don’t charge more for bottles at Vin Room. I like to be competitive but fair, I am always looking at other wine lists to see if I am in line with other venues, I don’t want to charge more for wines that someone else has. We do have to calibrate and check the machines on a weekly basis to ensure that they pour correctly, which is normal considering the amount of use they get.
Anything else about wine by the glass?
John Robarts – Don’t be afraid to ask for a taste of a wine and don’t be afraid to look at the bottle program either. Some restaurants may even be willing to let you order a few glasses from a bottle on the bottle list.
Jackie Cooke – In Alberta, we have the luxury of an abundance of fantastic wine at all price points, there is no excuse to ignore this opportunity. Also…I wouldn’t order a wine by the glass from a menu that was laminated.