The concept of selling wine by the glass rather than by the bottle is not a new one, but it is enjoying a great surge in popularity. According to statistics compiled by Winemetrics LLC, wine sales by the bottle have been dropping slightly in recent years but sales by the glass are up nearly 7% over the past four years, with an even greater surge in the prized demographic known as the millennials. Helen Mackey, the beverage strategist for the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse chain, believes the reason is threefold: younger consumers want to experiment and try more wines; they don’t always want a full bottle; and they’re cost-conscious. If you can try four different wines for the same price as a bottle of one moderately priced wine, why not?
Ordering wine by the glass serves another purpose as well—a wine with the texture and fruitiness to be satisfying on its own may not be the best accompaniment to food. The reverse is also true—wines that go well with food often have a lot of acidity. This is great for balancing the fat in a steak, but less desirable for a refreshing quaff at a bar. With a bottle, you are stuck with one choice for everything; by the glass, you can pick and choose as you progress through your evening out.
With the popularity of wine by the glass in mind, a group of South Florida’s best sommeliers gathered in late January for an unusual wine competition. As director of VeritageMiami, United Way’s annual charity wine celebration, I am the organizer of what’s dubbed the “Best in Glass Wine Challenge.” Over two days of tasting, we called on the sommeliers to taste nearly 300 wines and select those they thought would be good prospects for “by-the-glass” lists at their respective restaurants. In some cases, sommeliers were looking for esoteric wines (it’s easier to sell a glass than a full bottle of an unfamiliar wine), or one that offered an unusual take on a standard theme. In every case, value was a strong factor. There’s a market for $300 bottles of wine, but almost no market for wine that’s $100 a glass. The sommeliers were looking for wines they could price between $6 and $20, ones with a story to tell and flavor to deliver.
Did they succeed? You have a chance to find out firsthand: The judges awarded 48 Gold Medals and 88 Silver Medals, and many of these will be poured at VeritageMiami’s Grand Tasting at 7 p.m. April 10 at the Village of Merrick Park. (Go to veritagemiami.com for details.) If you can’t make it there, you can also find many of the winners at participating restaurants throughout Miami as part of the "Best in Glass" program that runs through April 12. Here, we showcase six of the sommelier favorites, plus exactly where you can try a nice glass.
Milbrandt Vineyards Estates Viognier, 2012 Viognier is a classic but finicky white grape in the Rhône Valley that has had mixed success in the U.S. Milbrandt Vineyard in Washington State, however, is one of the top viognier producers in America, and this wine was a hit with many of the Miami sommeliers, who see it as being equally successful on its own or with food—and unusual enough to be distinctive on a wine list. Don Derocher of Eau Resort and Spa in Palm Beach says, “it’s just plain refreshing and delicious.” And Luis Mejia, at J&G Grill in Bal Harbour, says, “it has aromas of peach and dry apricots on the nose leading toward a creamy feeling in the mouth with a good crisp finish. It’s a great surprise for any wine lover.” (Where to taste it: J&G Grill at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, 9703 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour, $13/glass; Michael’s Genuine, 130 NE 40th Street, Miami, $13/glass.)
Val de Mer Petite Chablis, 2012 In France, wines tend to be labeled based on where they are from rather than the grapes they contain, so it’s easy to miss the fact this is pristine chardonnay. Eric Larkee, wine director of the Michael’s Genuine Food Group, loves to give customers the back-story on wine and says, “We’re stoked to be pouring this great chardonnay from micro-producer Patrick Piuzi at The Cypress Room.” He happily recounts how Piuzi, a Canadian, moved to France a decade ago and has become one of the most widely respected producers in Burgundy’s Chablis region. Daniel Toral, Head Sommelier at Lippi, finds a story helps emphasize a wine’s personality as well. “I like the style of this producer. There is always a lot of texture and weight in the wine, but it still has lot of elegance.” (Where to taste it: The Cypress Room, 3620 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami, $14/glass; Lippi, 600 Brickell Avenue, Miami, $13/glass.)
Antinori Guado al Tasso Scalabrone Rosé, 2012 This shimmering rosé is produced along the Tuscan coast by one of Italy’s true wine dynasties and scored more placements on “Best in Glass” than any other. The Antinori family, with more than 14 generations of experience, has brought Italian rosé international fame with this wine. Jorge Mendoza of The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne’s Cioppino restaurant praises its “expressive fresh ripe fruits and dry finish,” and Hollywood Prime’s Laura Romano says, “it’s great for poolside enjoyment and complex enough to pair with our beef carpaccio.” (Where to taste it: Cioppino at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Drive, Key Biscayne, $12/glass; Michael’s Genuine, 130 NE 40th Street, Miami, $14/glass; Hollywood Prime at the Westin Diplomat Resort, 3555 S Ocean Drive, Hollywood, $11/glass.)
Jamieson Ranch Light Horse Pinot Noir, 2012 Pinot noir is a popular choice for by-the-glass pouring when it’s reasonably priced. Consumers like the wine’s relatively light body and versatility on its own or with a variety of foods from salmon to steak. Aniece Meinhold, co-owner of The Federal in Miami, calls this wine from Napa’s southernmost winery “a great little gem. It has wonderful pinot flavor, really pure with snappy cherries and cinnamon.” It is, she says, “really classic California pinot at a friendly price.” (Where to taste it: The Federal, 5132 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, $11/glass.)
Ridge Three Valleys, 2011 True zinfandel, with its deep garnet color and intense berry flavors, is a far cry from the once popular white zinfandel. The best-balanced versions, a style for which Ridge is famous, are wonderful by the glass. This wine, from three valleys in Sonoma County, contains 65% zin, so by law it can’t put zinfandel on the front label (that would require at least 75%), but it has all the great zin hallmarks. Daniel Toral says, “I like the intensity of this wine and how fruit-forward it is, but it also has a savory quality that makes it balanced and very food-friendly.” Tim Bubar, whose eclectic wine list is a star at Timo in Sunny Isles, says, “Ripe, toasty, spicy dark fruitwho wouldn’t like this?” (Where to taste it: Timo, Sunny Isles, 17624 Collins Avenue, Sunny Isles, $15/glass; Lippi, 600 Brickell Avenue, Miami, $14/glass; Michael’s Genuine, 130 NE 40th Street, Miami, $17/glass.)
Nivarius Rioja Blanco 2012 This aromatic white wine comes from an area of Spain much better known for its red wines. In fact, Nivarius is the first winery in all of Rioja to devote itself entirely to white wine, one of several factors that attracted the attention of The Federal’s Meinhold, who described it as “remarkably layered and textured. It’s loaded with yellow fruit but has a delicious sunflower seed, nutty note to it. For the price, it’s a winner in my book.” (Where to taste it: The Federal, 5132 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, $11/glass.)