By Kari Ziegler, special to centralcoastwinepress.com

Wine bars are popping up all over the place. They are, it seems, the new “Starbucks,” as even Starbucks is thinking about serving wine and beer. So if anyone can open a wine bar, then having something special — something unique — is what is going to set each wine bar apart from the rest of the five others on the block. What seems to be the big “bravado” trend is having 300-plus wines open for the customer to choose from. Costco and BevMo have now hit the quaint local wine bar circuit.

So, 300 open wines … I first stare with glee like a kid in a candy store when I am presented with the iPad menu of wines, and then the reality hits. Is this too much?

Open wines all have different aging issues, and there are lots of determining factors.

Winespectator.com listed two that were very important for serving wine by the glass on its site:

• How old the wine is
• How much wine is left in the bottle

Drinkwine.com further explains why how much wine in the bottle is the main factor to opened wine going bad: It’s called oxygen. The website gives a few hints for how to keep open wine good, but it all comes down to the amount of oxygen touching the wine. Red wine will keep its character for up to 48 hours corked and refrigerated, while white should maintain its form for up to four days.

Gassing can preserve the wine up to two weeks, but remember that each wine will age differently when opened, just like it does before the cork was popped, just on a faster scale.

The questions start whirring in my brain while I stand in the mega wine bar. Yes, they have a gassing system, but with ranges of prices from $5 to $100 a glass — is each wine being “tasted out” on a regular basis? Does the staff even know what the wine tastes like if it is good, bad or not representative of the wine? Do employees record when each bottle is opened, or last poured? How were these 300 chosen? Oh, I think I just got dizzy thinking about it!

Think about it. You walk into a tiny wine bar, with 15 seats, two employees and 300 open wines.  The employees need to pour 1,200 glasses of wine in, at most, a two-week window (with some wines really needing to be poured in a much shorter time).

Continuing with 1,200 glasses, with each customer drinking an average of two glasses, that’s 600 seats that need to be filled every 14 days. So, will 43 people a day come in to your favorite wine bar and drink from the open wines, two full glasses across the entire list to keep the wines moving and fresh?

With 15 seats, that means that the bar is packed with people continuously for four to six hours, with each customer sitting for one to two hours sipping their two glasses of wine. As a restauranteur, that means you flip every table three times in the night. Drive by a particular place on a Monday or Wednesday — do you see that happening?

If you do, then your wine has a chance of tasting just like the winemaker expects. Do the math, for most establishments the wine just can’t be consumed in time for it to be fresh.

So when you see hundreds of wines available by the glass, look for the following before you buy:

• The establishment needs to have some sort of gas preservation system (simply pulling air out of the bottle cannot pull out all of the air — so oxygen remains to do its dirty work in the bottle)
• All wines, both reds and whites, need to be gassed
• Wine needs to be tasted daily by trained staff to ensure its freshness
• Wine needs to be dated when open and thrown out when not good
• Wine bar employees need to let you get a taste before you buy — it’s the only way you will know for sure you are getting your money’s worth.

Full disclosure: I own a wine bar (with 30 open wines at any time, and 35 seats) and I am incredibly picky about the experience I am looking for when I go out, so I may be a bit extreme. 

It’s an awesome experience for me to see what people have done to project and complete their idea of what a wine bar should be, and I appreciate them all for their uniqueness. However, when it comes to wine quality at my bar, I have a high standard.

We taste every day, we know about the wines, the winemakers and, in some cases, have actually worked to help produce the wines in order to gain even more knowledge about the work behind making wine.

I loathe hearing stories from friends about how they entered a place, ordered a wine and got something else entirely. I hear stories like this all the time. Go out and have fun — but be informed on what you are drinking — and how long it’s been opened.

(Copyright by Kari Ziegler)

Kari Ziegler is the owner of Gather Wine Bar in Arroyo Grande and can be reached at kari@gatherwinebar.com.

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