SAFETY IN NUMBERS, OR RISK?
Master Sommelier James Tidwell’s program
at the Four Seasons Resort and Club outside
Dallas calls for as many as 30 by-the-glass of-
ferings. “The priority is diversity,” he says.
“The by-the-glass wines are a reflection of the
list as a whole. We have incredibly diverse
guests: people who want the standards, people
who seem focused on a given varietal, people
who like to be taken on a journey, people who
want trophy wines.” So at any given time
Tidwell’s pours include well-known interna-
tional varieties alongside lesser-known grapes
like Assyrtiko, Xinomavro, Pinotage, etc.
Offer too many wines, however, and oxi-
dized wine becomes an issue. “When I started
I wanted to have lots and lots of different
things by-the-glass,” says David Weitzenhof-
fer, co-owner of AI Selections and formerly
wine director at Felidia in New York CIty,
“but it’s hard to manage too many, and hard
to ensure they’re turning over fast enough.”
When selecting pours, Tidwell asks him-
self: “Is this a wine that’s going to benefit from
being open, deteriorate, or stay the same?”
Ideally it’s going to develop a bit with some
exposure, but, “Am I going to be able to turn
this wine quickly enough even if it’s not?”
Farner asks her suppliers for a bottle of a po-
tential pour, opens it, and tastes it at intervals
as long as a week out to see how it holds up.
Even with a compact glass list, individual
wines can suffer. “Put Pinot Grigio, Chardon-
nay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and one ‘off’ vari-
etal on the list,” says Weitzenhoffer, “and you
are not going to sell the last one.”
Tidwell believes the solution is to price
the offbeat wines attractively, and to “posi-
tion them on the list so people can understand
them.” For Tidwell that means grouping them
alongside wines with a similar character, even
though the list isn’t explicitly arranged by style.
STAFF ON THE FRONT LINES
Staff training is also essential, but remember
your audience. “Wine people want their staff to
know everything about a wine,” says Weitzen-
hoffer, “but waitstaff don’t have the same moti-
vation. I got much, much better at condensing
stuff to tell guests” when training servers.
Different staff, different toolbox, says
Carla Rzeszewski, the beverage director for
The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and The John
Dory in New York. The staff at John Dory
Oyster Bar is tiny and focused. “They know
what they want to sell; they’re coming to me
with questions.” So esoteric wines—like the
perennial underdog Sherry, one of the team’s
darlings—have a good chance of doing well
there. The Breslin’s servers work fewer shifts
and sales skew more toward beer and cock-
tails, so they’re less invested in selling wine;
in turn, Rzeszewski says she offers strictly fa-
miliar grape varieties there.
Technology has provided other ways to
make sure that each glass that goes out is as
fresh as the winemaker intended. Wine on tap
has made a major comeback, and helps con-
trol both freshness and waste. “Our wine on
tap programs at the Dory and the Breslin are
quite successful,” says Rzeszewski. “We have
three wines and one cider on tap. In my mind,
BY-THE-GLASS
James Tidwell, MS, of the Four Seasons,
Dallas (left); David Weitzenhoffer of AI
Selections, New York.
SLIPPERY STATS
VS.
Wine served by the glass is a
tricky phenomenon to quantify. For
instance, the research firm Guest-
Metrics—based on a database of
more than 250 million restaurant/
bar checks—recently calculated
that wine by the glass represented
87% of wine orders across the
U.S. in 2012, up 4% over 2011;
and that the number of wine bottles
ordered in 2012 fell by 13%. The
catch, however, is that these
figures mostly reflect restaurant
math. If one table of four orders
four glasses of wine, and another
shares a bottle, that’s five orders
between the two tables, 80% of
which are by the glass. The amount
of wine purchased by the bottle-
drinking table is higher (by about
a glass, based on a glass being a
5 oz. pour), but the profit from the
four glasses is likely higher, pre-
suming the four glasses brought in
four times the wholesale cost of the
bottle (with one glass still to serve),
while the bottle probably brought in
three times the wholesale cost.
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