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Wine on Tap, Substance or Style?

Consumers beware of clever packaging. It's the quality of the wine that should be more important than the presentation.

I hate gimmicks more than getting up early in the morning in the middle of vacation to do taxes. If I was Tom gimmicks would be my Jerry. I hate gimmicks as much as I like the friendly competition at Iron Vintners, the annual Iron Chef-style cooking competition pitting local winemakers at .

On that note, congratulations to Morgan Lee of and Two Vintners Winery on winning this year’s competition. Congratulations also go to , the Woodinville-based therapeutic horse riding non-profit for children and adults, the beneficiaries of the three-week cooking tournament.

Back to gimmicks. A popular gimmick in wine today is wine on tap.

I haven’t seen any results that show that serving wine on tap improves the quality of the fermented grape juice. In fact, in many cases, much of the wine that is sold in kegs is juice left over that was not deemed suitable to bottle and seal under cork or another closure.

Wine taps can be convenient to bars and restaurants serving wines out of the vessel made popular by beer. There’s no inherent benefit to the consumer, unless bars and restaurants pass the savings on to their guests. I have yet to see evidence of that as well.

Take Charles & Charles Red Wine, a wine made in collaboration between Charles Smith and Charles Bieler. The wine is a simple, fruit-forward, straightforward and easy drinking sipper ideal for a happy hour menu. Sold by the glass bottle it retails for around $10. Served on tap at Seatown, Tom Douglas’ casual restaurant by the Pike Place Market, it sells for $10 for a quarter liter and $20 for half a littler. That amounts to $30 for three quarters of a liter, the equivalent of a regular bottle.

At best, that is about the same mark-up if it was sold by the bottle at the restaurant. Considering the presumed cost saving for convenience to the restaurant, the margins are slightly larger for the business, meaning the consumer is screwed.

Small Lot Co-Op, founded in Woodinville and now based in Shoreline, hawks wines on tap by Walla Walla-based Proletariat Wine Company. in Woodinville — which also maintains a booth at the on Sundays — sells wine in tote bags and kegs. Ron Bunnell, , also sells wine by the keg.

Proletariat wines are served at Black Bottle Postern, Daniel’s Broiler, Pearl and Mercato Stellina in Bellevue, Spazzo in Redmond, Sparta’s in Bothell, Le Grand Bistro Americain, Milagro Cantina and the Courtyard by Marriott in Kirkland, , and WildFin American Grill and Pogacha in Issaquah. Black Bottle Postern, WildFin and Le Grand Bistro Americain also sell Piccolo wines. They are also available at JJ Mahoney and Malt & Vine in Redmond.  

Proletariat claims on their website that, “Basically, we're passing on the cost savings gained by providing larger quantities and by not having to bottle, store, package or promote our wines.” I’ll take them at their word. Like Charles & Charles, Proletariat wines are generally one dimensional, bascially fruit-forward.

At Bennett’s on Mercer Island, Proletariat Viognier-Roussane sells for $12 a glass. Their Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $14 a glass. Both wines are within a reasonable price range relative to quality but I hardly consider it a bargain. If you order their wines, look past the novelty of wine on tap and evaluate it on its merits.

The wine could be stored in the University of Washington’s 1991 football national championship crystal trophy and poured by Brigitte Bardot for all I care. And I do I love UW football and Bardot. In the end, it’s the quality of the wine that matters.

Ellie Chin June 22, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Hey Chris! Just read your article and have to say that here at Fonte we DO pass on the cost savings to the consumer. I carry Proletariat's Viognier/Roussanne and Cabernet as our house wine. We offer them for $7 a glass (V/R) and $9 a glass (Cab). Both are $5 at Happy Hour. If other restaurants are charging over $10 a glass, its because they know the quality of the wine warrants it. The idea of keg wine - with little waste, no recycling costs, ease and quickness for staff - all of it makes sense for ANY restaurant. When you can also feel confident that you are providing a glass of wine that tastes great and is worth the price, it should no longer be considered a gimmick. Just my two cents! Thanks! Ellie

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