April 11 2016

By the Glass by Larry Sterner

by-the-glassAs a wine lover, I’ve learned the hard way: Oxygen is our enemy. Thankfully, technology is making this a problem of the past.

Here’s the essential problem: Wine is almost never the same after one day or even a few hours of exposure to oxygen. It begins to decline and loses complexity in both flavor and aroma. The once-alluring drink becomes dull, one-dimensional, and sometimes, downright bad. Admittedly, there are some wines, usually mature, that benefit from initial oxygenation. We might talk about letting them “breathe” but even that effect is transitory and soon those wines degrade after their “hour of glory.” But if you’re like me, and you only drink a glass or two in a sitting, you end up with less than desirable leftovers.

Recently, I’ve tried some off-the-shelf devices at home to help keep my wine fresh, from the wine pump to the can of inert gas that you spray into your half-used bottle and then quickly put in the cork. There’s now the Coravin, the most deluxe accessory on the market, designed for the oenophile with deep pockets. This device allows you to access wine without even pulling the cork out of the bottle.

Of course, in the restaurant world, they’re ahead of the game. Wine-focused restaurants have been using a wonderful system called the Cruvinet for many years now.  This system also uses inert gas pumped into an individual bottle of wine and the wine comes out to a small tap or spigot on the unit. The system can be configured for as few as four bottles or as many as an ambitious sommelier wants to offer. Panorama Restaurant, right here in Philadelphia, has one of the largest Cruvinet systems in the world, currently offering 120 wines on tap with a wide variety of wine types, ages, and prices. One can select from the list a 5 ounce glass of fresh young Pinot Grigio for $8.50 all the way up to fine, mature Bordeaux or Barolos for $30 a glass, and every stop in between.

And just in the last few years, restaurant owners have looked to another similar technology as a path to offering good wine, in good condition, at reasonable prices. This, too, is called “wine on tap.” However, the wine in question does not come from a 750 ml bottle but rather from a 20 liter, stainless steel keg equivalent to roughly 26 bottles of wine. The wine in these kegs is kept free from oxygen exposure with an inert gas mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, leaving the product in pristine condition for three months after tapped.

There are now no fewer than a dozen restaurants in Philadelphia offering wine this way, including Brigantessa, Townsend and Alla Spina, among many others. Most notably, there’s the Tria Taproom just off Rittenhouse Square where you can choose from 12 different selections on tap, six red and six white. They offer wines from around the world, all of which are well made, delicious and served in peak condition, for $8.50 or $9.50 a glass. (Another great benefit to this system is that it passes savings on to the consumer.)

Here at Frog Commissary, we’re planning to offer this kind of wine service as an option for our catered events in the near future.  For our clients who appreciate good wine, who want more than the run-of-the-mill house selections yet don’t want to break the bank, we feel that this could be a great solution and that “on tap” is the wave of the wine-drinking future.