Thinking outside the bottle

Editor’s note: Today marks the first column by the Mail Tribune's new wine columnist, MJ Daspit. She moved to Southern Oregon from San Diego in 2004 and took an immediate interest in the local wine industry. For four years she tended several rows in an Ashland area vineyard and made her own wine. Her pictorial history, "Rogue Valley Wine," co-written with winemaker Eric Weisinger, appeared in 2011. She has been covering local wineries and vineyards for Southern Oregon Wine Scene magazine since 2015.

 

When drinking wine in a bar or restaurant, do you normally order by the glass or do you buy a bottle?

I normally order by the glass, because my husband drinks only white wines and I often opt for red. So I thought I’d talk about a concept for serving wine by the glass that may seem shocking to some wine aficionados: wine on tap.

Stay with me now. Take a deep breath and read on.

A bottle of wine is a thing of beauty, often the centerpiece of meal service in a fine-dining establishment. In the years since Americans first got into wines, starting with the likes of Mateus Rosé and Blue Nun, we’ve learned about the refinements of wine drinking, including the history of bottles, the significance of shape and color and the origin of the punt, that depression in the bottom. (OK, maybe not the origin of the punt. That’s a topic for another column.)

Suffice to say, we’ve come of age in terms of our wine savvy, thinking that bottles are a good thing and large-format packaging, the box for instance, is a little déclassé.

But it’s time to reframe our thinking where wine service by the glass is concerned. Consider Common Block Brewing Company on the Commons in Medford, the brainchild of Alex Amarotico. Apart from the bar stock of liquors, you’ll find nary a bottle at Common Block, in spite of its offering myriad beers and nonalcoholic drinks and a dozen wines.

Wines are received in cylinders ranging in size from about five to 15 gallons and connected to bar taps by special flavor-neutral lines that protect the wine from oxygen permeation. Each cylinder is also connected to a tank of nitrogen that forces wine from the cylinder as wine is tapped out and maintains a blanket of the gas as a barrier between the wine and oxygen. This is what keeps wine on tap fresh.

So, if you order a wine by the glass and it’s tapped from a cylinder, it may be in better condition than if it came out of a bottle opened hours or days ago. Further, you may pay more for that glass from the bottle that may or may not have been properly stored.

Of the dozen wines on the Common Block list, the most expensive glass is $9 (a Cab from Paso Robles, California) and the least expensive is $6 (Zardetto Private Cuvee from Italy). All the rest are priced at $7 or $8. Of these, six are from the Rogue or Applegate valleys, two are from the Willamette Valley and two are from California’s Central Coast.

But what about quality? Are wines packaged in cylinders of an inferior grade? Absolutely not. Some of our area’s top winemakers, including Greg Paneitz of Wooldridge Creek and Herb Quady of Quady North and Barrel 42, provide wines on tap to Common Block and other area restaurants. Quady’s 2015 Steelhead Run Viognier scored 93 points in Wine Enthusiast and made its Top 100 list for 2017. His racy white blend Pistoleta on tap is exactly the same lovely wine as the Pistoleta available in bottles.

So, unless you’re getting a bottle for the table, should you order a glass of wine that comes from a tap? Give it a try and see for yourself.

— What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.

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