Wine by the glass systems deserve a second sniff

The very mention of a phrase like ‘wine preserving and dispensing’ is enough to send a chill down the spine of any self-respecting sommelier or wine enthusiast.

The presentation of the bottle, the pulling of the cork, the sniff and swirl appear usurped by the electrical whir of a machine that appears designed for pouring mass-produced lager.

This first impression is a challenge, but is is one that can and should be overcome. Fine wine is a living, breathing, and constantly changing pleasure that needs careful nurturing from the field, to the cellar, to the bottle, into distribution, into the restaurant and finally to the table.

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Every step of this process requires expert handling. However, once in a restaurant environment, 10 years or more of assiduous care can be undone if bottles are left open too long, left on the side to get too warm, or in ice to get too cold.

In fine dining establishments there has been a massive leap forward in the equipment used to deliver extraordinary food – but the care and presentation of wine inside the restaurant has stood still for generations.

I recently dined in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Beaune, the epicentre of the Burgundy wine region. The list for wine by the bottle was typically biblical, and any one of the bottles would have been sensational with the right food.

But, as is typical of France and, increasingly, the UK, there were several tasting menus on offer that made it near impossible that one or two excellent full bottles could work in harmony with so many different flavours.

Wines by the glass matched to each course were positively encouraged in a town where it is hard to imagine a screw cap being accepted.

The wines were preserved and served in a system that was fully on view to the diners. Its glass and steel facade looked a little out of place under the arches of a beautiful stone-built room, but every wine arrived in a perfect state and, to my untrained palette, worked well with every dish.

Take up of similar systems in the UK has been stubbornly slow, and it will take restaurant critics and other opinion shapers to take them mainstream.

My hunch and hope is that these systems become widely accepted. There may be no substitute for the ritual of opening wine at the table, but the ability to taste several superb wines by the glass within one meal should become a mainstream alternative and a considerable business opportunity for dealers.

 

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