Different Strokes

Wines-by-the-glass lists gratify promiscuous sippers

They say variety is the spice of life, but isn't it more like the main course? It's not just a seasoning, but something that helps you avoid mind-numbing monotony and relentless repetition. Variety is, well, da' bomb. That might be one of the reasons wine piques my interest; it offers virtually infinite choices to fit a mood, a dish, an occasion. Wine varies from year-to-year, ebbing and flowing with the weather, the soil and the winemaker's whims. It has personality. So being able to choose wines by the glass, thereby increasing variety, is essential to a wine drinker's life, especially those seeking not just the spice of life, but the main course. Most wines-by-the-glass lists fall into two categories: the mundane merlot and bland chardonnay or the inspired, cool and extraordinary. Some restaurateurs find the perfect mix, but the trick is generating income while exploring their wilder side. You need both the known — to make the dollars roll in — and the unknown — to tempt inquisitive wine geeks. A big problem is what to do with the mostly full obscure bottle at the end of the night. You need to do something to preserve it because there ain't nothing nastier than wine that has been open for five or six days.

Some restaurants use a carbon-dioxide system that pumps the oxygen out of the bottle (the culprit that ruins wine). Other restaurants use Vacu-Vin, a manual hand pump that sucks the oxygen out. Restaurants that care about their wines by the glass will use these methods to keep their wines from turning. But, even with pumping and sucking, it's debatable whether you can keep wine fresh for more than two or three days after opening. Ask the server what system, if any, the restaurant uses. If nothing, tread lightly and go in with a steeled tongue. Also, don't be afraid to send the wine back if it smells like the refrigerator or tastes metallic, overly acidic or vinegary. If you're paying good money, expect good product in return.

When you pay an insulting $10 for a glass of wine that costs $15 per bottle at the store, it hurts even if it's fresh. Some restaurants gouge on purpose to cover their spoilage costs. Here's the math: A bottle contains about five glasses, and restaurants price the glass so that one sale covers the wholesale cost of the bottle, in case the rest doesn't sell. The remaining glasses are gravy.

But what doth a perfect wine list make? To harp even further: variety. Predicting what people want is no easy task for a restaurateur, but it's possible. A great wine list should feature an array of different wines, both varietal and blends ranging from chardonnay (but for chrissake, don't offer more than three or four) to viognier [vee-oh-NYAY] and cabernet to carignan [karin-YAN]. There should be known wineries, such as Beringer, and obscure ones such as Roshambo. With so much out there to choose from, all with varying degrees of quality based on vintages, location, winemakers and production, it takes a lot of work to build a decent wine list. Ideally, restaurateurs give careful thought to crafting it, so we need to support the effort — especially if we crave variety.

RECOMMENDED WINES

2002 Clos Pegase Chardonnay Mitsuko's Vineyard Carneros Deliciously flirty and surprisingly rich. Like crack, one taste and you're hooked. Loaded with fruit like peaches, pears and pineapple, it finishes strong with toasty, buttery vanilla. Really, really good stuff. $21. 1/2

St. Francis 2001 Old Vines Zinfandel Sonoma County It wafts up your nose with earth and dark, roasted cherries. On the tongue, it glides into plum and ripe red cherry with a smidgen of chocolate. Nice big zinfandel structure, but pretty easy drinkin'. $22. 1/2

Question, comment or suggestion? E-mail [email protected] or call 813-739-4881.

THE WINE LIST

Got an upcoming or ongoing wine event? Send information to The Wine List, 810 N. Howard Ave., Tampa, FL 33606, fax 813-739-4801 or e-mail [email protected].

WINE TASTING WITH A HEART Hosted by Fine Wine and Spirits Warehouse, with proceeds benefiting H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. Over 60 premium wines, appetizers, and the opportunity to buy what you try. $15. 6-8 p.m. Thurs., July 22. Mike Kwasin residence, 3613 Beach Drive, Tampa (813-837-8941).

A TIME FOR WINE Enjoy artwork as you try several limited-production European wines. Intimate setting with a discussion group. Free. 7 p.m. Thurs., July 22. Gold Dragon Gallery, 3508 S. Manhattan Ave., Tampa (813-832-2755). R.S.V.P. requested.

HOT SPOTS, COOL WINES Hot new vintages, new grape blends and new growing regions. Try 10 of the coolest new wines — whites, reds and even a rose. $10. 7- 9 p.m. Fri., July 23. Vintage Wine Cellars, 3629 Henderson Blvd., Tampa (813-879-2931). R.S.V.P. requested.

RHONE ZONE Eric Renaud guides us down the river of wine, exploring grenache, syrah and mourvedre. Class format. $25. 6:30 p.m. Mon., July 26. SideBern's Restaurant, 1002 S. Howard Ave., Tampa (813-250-9463). Reservations requested.

AMERICAN SPIRITS WINE TASTINGS American Spirits hosts a free wine tastings every Thursday. 5:30-7:30 p.m. American Spirits, 280 Third Street S., St. Petersburg (727-895-8700).

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