The general diner’s fealty to a select few grapes keeps that by-the-glass list from evolving in all but the most dedicated restaurants: imagine if our food choices were similarly limited to cheeseburgers, caesar salads, and macaroni and cheese?
A glass of wine is a wonderful thing. A glass of wine at a restaurant or bar, though, is often decidedly less so. Yet between the rise of happy hour and the slow demise of the multi-course meal, people seem ever more intent on drinking their wine one glass at a time. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but I see fewer and fewer tables where people spend three minutes talking about what they’d like to drink and then agreeing on a wine.
Truth be told, people like me selling you that glass of wine generally don’t mind, because the profit margin on each glass is higher than on most bottles of wine. The standard mark-up that most establishments use is to charge you the wholesale cost of the bottle on each glass, which amounts earning somewhere around four times the cost of each bottle sold. Compare that to the mark-up on whole bottles, which often is three times the cost of the bottle or less, and you can see why the margin is so enticing for restaurants.
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Beyond just a vague sense of value though, wines by the glass are often roughly treated by a restaurant: stashed in a convenient corner of the restaurant they easily can be exposed to entirely too much heat, or end up in the back of a refrigerator somewhere slowly dying. Relatively few restaurants take note of exactly when a bottle was opened, meaning you may or may not get something at its peak.
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Plus, most wines by the glass are fucking boring, treading the same safe varietals and regions. “I’ll have a glass of Cab” is the wine equivalent of “I like all music,” and restaurants and bars know this. The general diner’s fealty to a select few grapes keeps that by-the-glass list from evolving in all but the most dedicated restaurants: imagine if our food choices were similarly limited to cheeseburgers, caesar salads, and macaroni and cheese? Why should our wine drinking resemble a “fast-casual” restaurant menu?
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Surely, there are times for wine by the glass: if you legitimately won’t drink a full bottle, or you want something quite different from the people you are dining with. In that elusive multi-course meal, the right glass of wine can often come in handy. Glass-pour wines won’t be going away, but I’d encourage you to flip past that first page in the wine list a bit more often.