Do you look at the wine list before you order a wine by the glass? If you don’t, you may be missing out on some good wine and occasionally some good values. Many restaurants are increasing the number of wines that they offer by the glass. While some still just have their “house” Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, more restaurants are providing choices within these varieties and are adding more varieties to their by-the-glass lists. It’s not unusual to find Malbec, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties on the list these days.
Typically the “house” wines will be the lowest price and the lowest quality. So unless you’re just really craving a mediocre glass of wine, see what other by-the-glass wines are available before you make your decision. Often you will find some premium labels on the list that you will want to try. While the premium labels will cost more, I think you’re getting better value with the premium wines. The reasoning is a bit convoluted. In general, the cheaper “house” wine is going to have been marked-up more (as a percentage of its retail price) than the premium wine. So while neither is a great value, the premium wine is a relatively better value than the “house” wine. Besides, it tastes better.
A good by-the-glass wine list is also an opportunity to branch out and give your palate some exercise. On the whole you’re not spending a huge amount for a glass of wine, so try something new. Be brave, try a variety you haven’t had before. If you’re in a Merlot rut, try a Malbec or a Pinot Noir. If you stuck on Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, try a Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re not that brave, at least try a different label of your “usual” wine or try one from a different part of the country or the world. Most restaurants will pour you a sample of their by-the-glass wines, so you really don’t have to risk anything to experiment with something new.
Two things to beware of when ordering wine by the glass. Some restaurants don’t think that by-the-glass-wines deserve real stemware. They’ll try to serve your wine in one of those tiny little 1950s “Libby’s” glasses. You know, the kind our mothers got for free from the grocery store. If you know the restaurant has stemware, ask for a glass appropriate to the wine when you order. I usually just ask for a “real” glass and they know what I mean. You will enjoy the wine more in the right glass. Even mediocre wine tastes better in a good glass.
The other thing to beware of is wine that has oxidized because it has been open too long. Unfortunately this is very common. Some restaurants at least refrigerate their open bottles to retard oxidation, but some don’t even do that. They will be happy to pour you’re the last few ounces from a bottle that was opened two days ago. So, check your glass of wine carefully for signs of oxidation. Does the color look right? Oxidation turns wine brown, so if your red wine is amber or your white wine is brown or a dark gold, it may be oxidized. Does it smell right? Wine should smell fresh and, for the most part, like fruit. If the wine smells musty or like burnt raisins, it may be oxidized. If you suspect your wine is oxidized, send it back and ask for a glass from a new bottle.
For reasons that escape me, most chain restaurants offer a minimal number of by-the-glass wines. On the other hand, proprietor owned restaurants seem to have, on average, more by-the-glass wines. One of the largest selections in the immediate area is Café du Bois with a list of around twenty by-the-glass wines, followed closely by Raffa’s with sixteen. Here are wines I’ve selected that you might want to try from the by-the-glass lists at few of our local, proprietor owned restaurants.
Kendall Jackson Chardonnay
Park West Pinot Noir
Café du Bois
Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay
Chateau Lenormand red Bordeaux
Mandolin Pinot Noir
Rosenblum Vintner's Cuvée Zinfandel
Well we made it through another one. I’m not talking about the really terrible year 2009 or the equally terrible decade. No, I’m talking about another holiday season and all that wonderful food we shouldn’t have eaten and all that great wine we shouldn’t have saved for January. So naturally we’re all making plans for dramatic dieting during the next several months. In the vein of trying to provide a service to my readers, here is some information on the waist-line expanding properties of wine.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a standard serving (5- ounces) of table wine, red or white, contains 125 calories. By way of comparison, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories; a 12-ounce bottle of beer 150 calories; and an 8-ounce glass of whole milk 160 calories. This is an average for wine, since the calorie content will vary with the alcohol and residual sugar content of the wine. Sweet wines having higher calorie counts than dry wines. If you drink sweet white wines, your 5 ounce glass might contain 200 to 250 calories (a Hershey bar contains 210 calories).
If you are an Atkins, South Beach or other low carbohydrate diet subscriber, then you don’t really care about all those calories, do you? A lot of experts don’t seem to like these low carbohydrate diets, but I think they reflect a more natural way of eating than most diets, including our usual diets of eating everything we can get our hands on. When we were running around on the savannahs in Africa a million years ago, our diet consisted pretty much of meat and whatever plant material we could find. That’s what our bodies we adapted for. There was no bread or Twinkies or salads for that matter. We grew up on protein and fat. Now I need to carefully climb down from my soap box and get back to the column.
Unfortunately, wine is not much more carbohydrate friendly than it is calorie friendly. A 5-ounce serving of dry white table wine contains around 1.25 grams of carbohydrates, a glass of red around 2.5 grams. Yes, you guessed it, sweet wines will have substantially more carbohydrates than dry wines. So if that news isn’t bad enough, alcohol while not a carbohydrate, behaves metabolically a lot like a carbohydrate. So, for the purposes of a low carbohydrate diet, alcohol should be treated as a carbohydrate. There is some good news about wine and our waist line. Wine contains no fat and no cholesterol. I’ll drink to that.
As in so many things, moderation is the key. While there is no way around what you drink showing up on your waistline, total abstinence isn’t required. If you want to drink more wine, drink drier red wines rather than sweeter white wines. Also, there’s a tendency to eat more when you’re drinking. Watch how much and what you eat with your wine. But, most important, cut down on the quantity if you are really serious about your weight. At least until the middle of January or so.
Given that, try to have as Happy a New Year as you can!
I hope you’ve visited my blog at www.virtualwineknow.com. Not only will you find all of the Life is a Cabernet columns there, going all the way back to the beginning of the column (and the Tribune) in 2007, but you will also find near real-time commentary on wines that I discover. Each time I drink a new wine that is worth your knowing about, I post comments about in on my blog. Some of these wines, like the ones below, will find their way into Cellar Notes, but most will only appear in the blog. You can subscribe to the blog via email, so every time I post a new wine, you’ll receive an email about it. Give it a try; there’s also a great Wine Primer that I’ve created from past columns.
Name: Mumm Cuvee M Sparkling Wine
Appellation: Napa Valley California
Cost: $20.00 at Spec's
Occasion: Thanksgiving breakfast
Comments: A noticeably sweet sparkling wine with notes of peaches and vanilla. It went well with eggs and other holiday breakfast fare.
Name: Ridge East Bench Zinfandel
Appellation: East Bench, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County California
Cost: $30.00 at Spec's
Occasion: Dinner at home
Comments: One of many fine Ridge Zinfandels. Medium body, low tannins, complex flavors.