Innovations in wine preservation spark an explosion in ‘by-the-glass’ wine lists
by Rachel Walker
Gone are the days of ‘house red’ and ‘house white’ being the only option on ‘by-the-glass’ menus. Up and down Britain, wine lists are evolving, and one of biggest changes is in the number of different wines available in 175ml, 250ml measures or 500ml carafes.
The growth of ‘by-the-glass’ menus is the manifestation of lots of big trends: more education resulting in the demand for more choice. Health is another big driver. With more people reining-in alcohol consumption by accompanying a meal with a glass of wine instead of automatically buying a bottle, there’s more pressure for sommeliers to find a way of presenting diners with exciting and broader ‘by-the-glass’ lists.
There’s no doubt that technical developments have also been behind the exponential growth in ‘by-the-glass’ lists over the past few years. Historically, it was a risky business for restaurants to offer high-end or esoteric vintages in small measures. If the bottle was uncorked, and only a couple of glasses were sold, then the remaining wine quickly oxidised, tired and went to waste.
Systems like Verre de Vin or the PresorVac helped preserve wine for one week to ten days. But the big revolution has come from new systems like Coravin, which allow opened bottles to last for months or even years. The pioneering gadget was developed by a medic – it works by inserting a thin needle through the cork to siphon the wine from the bottle, replacing it with argon gas, so that the remaining wine never comes in contact with oxygen.
Wine expert Robert Parker Jr described Coravin as "the most transformational and exciting new product." I’m certainly not the first to have noticed how its UK launch has coincided with the expansion in ‘by-the-glass’ menus. It marks an era of exploration in the world of wine. While committing to a whole bottle of wine often sparks a conservative purchase – perhaps something from Bordeaux or Burgundy – the option to taste smaller measures sees diners make riskier choices, perhaps trying a wine from Sicily or Lebanon instead.