When local restaurateurs decided there was a service to be provided—and money to be made!—by offering a better quality and range of wines by the glass, I said a little hurray. And I’m still saying it—it’s a worthwhile trend and shows no sign of abating. I don’t recall now who was the first, but there are dozens doing it now: wine by the glass, on tap. It may well have been Michael Mameli at Lupo, with his first-of-its-kind-in-town bubble machine, offering chilled Prosecco by the glass, but I can’t be sure, it was so long ago.
While I can’t claim to have tried them all, I have tried many restaurants’ on-tap offerings. Here are selections from two of my favourites.
Black + Blue, Emad Yacoub’s consummate steak house (1032 Alberni Street), is home to the best-value Friday lunch special—a fantastic burger ’n’ fries plus a bottle of Whistler ale, choice of two, all in for 10 bucks. Come early: they’re lining up out the door before noon, and the place is usually packed by quarter past.
It was while I was sitting at the bar one day, watching—and inhaling!—bartender Garret Graeme grate fresh horseradish root for what has to be the city’s best spicy caesar, that my eyes were drawn to a little red light on a glass-fronted machine in the restaurant’s northeast corner, almost out of sight behind the elevator to the popular rooftop terrace. “What’s that?” I asked him, whereupon he handed me a big leather-bound book. The first page was titled “Enomatic Selections” and listed eight wines on tap, offered in two sizes—a half-ounce taster and the regular, full-size glass.
Prices vary, from $6 to $11.75 per taster and $15.50 to $29.50 per glass. Here’s some of what’s on tap, along with the house’s description.
Michael David Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Lodi, California ($7/$17.50)
“Known for taking the road less traveled, Michael David Winery has always stood apart from the crowd. The fruit for this brute of a Cab comes from the original ‘super freak’, Michael Phillips’ vineyard, located only a medicine-ball toss away from the winery. Surprisingly nimble and elegant, showing great balance, strength and poise. This Cabernet has a bouquet of dark cherry and roasted spices. Full-bodied and mouth filling, with gobs of black currant, blackberry, charred oak, vanilla, and cassis. Mild tannins with a mellow, long finish.” Besides, when’s the last time you paid $17.50 for a glass of Lodi wine?
Decero Remolinos Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina ($6/$15.50)
“Each grape for this single-vineyard estate wine has been carefully selected by hand from the Remolinos Vineyard. This wine offers intensity of red fruit flavours and pure violet aromas. Exquisitely balanced by the freshness of acidity and an elegant integration of French oak that adds complexity to the rich velvet notes.”
Brancaia Tre 2009, Tuscany, Italy ($6/$15.50)
“Brancaia TRE is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The basis for this wine are the grapes from our three estates: Brancaia (Castellina), Poppi (Rada) and Brancaia in Maremma (Grosseto). The wine ages 12 months in French tonneaux.”
Quinta do Vale Meao Meandro 2010, Douro, Portugal ($7.50/$19)
“Vale Meao is a historic quinta that is now established as one of the front runners in the Douro’s red table wine revolution. The ‘Meandro’ is the estate’s second wine and has a relatively small production of 3000 cases. Matured in older barrels, it oozes red and black fruits on the nose, and a licorice edge on the palate that is very elegant.”
Cain Cuvee NV8, Napa Valley, California ($11.75/$29.50)
“Cain Cuvee is our use of two primary vintages in the blend—in this case there are actually three vintages. The NV08 consists primarily of 2008 (hence the ‘08’), complemented with a significant proportion of the excellent 2007 vintage, and a soupcon of the 2006, which we love. All of these factors contribute to a wine that is well balanced, surprisingly complex, and with a unique personality.”
And so on. There are a few more, and you’ve probably not tasted any of them. Here’s your (expensive) chance.
Restaurant manager Margot Baloro of forage (1300 Robson Street) takes the wine-on-tap thing a couple of steps further to include craft beers and B.C.–distilled vodka. The wines on tap are all B.C. labels and come in a five-ounce glass. They’re all from the Okanagan: Nichol Vineyard Pinot Gris ($10), Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse ($8), Laughing Stock Blind Trust White ($9), Meyer McLean Creek Chardonnay ($12), Forage Red ($12), Perseus Cabernet Shiraz ($10), and Okanagan Crush Pad Red ($8).
There are a few vintages: 2010 Tantalus Vineyards Riesling ($11), 2011 JoieFarm Rosé ($9), 2009 Burrowing Owl Vineyards Merlot ($9), and 2011 Blue Mountain Pinot Noir ($12). Selections and vintages are subject to change frequently.
The craft beers on tap cost $6 for a 12-ounce glass, $7 for 16 ounces, and currently include Steamworks Pilsner, R&B Bohemian Lager, Stanley Park Amber Ale, Storm Black Plague Stout, Parallel 49 Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale, and this handful of out-of-towners: Tin Whistle Killer Bee Dark Honey Ale (Penticton), Driftwood Fat Tug IPA (Victoria), Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter (Victoria), Crannog Red Branch Irish Ale (Sorrento), and Russell Lemon Ale Kristallweizen (Surrey). A craft-beer taster with a “featured snack” is available for $12 for 18 ounces.
Forage has a good selection of interesting bottled beers too, as well as three unique specialty cocktails, made with gin or vodka: Sweet, with strawberry purée and ginger syrup; Sour, with quince and rhubarb; and Savoury, with dill and Aquavitus.
Speaking of vodka, the three-vodka tasting may be unique to the forage bar. You get three shooter-sized glasses: Long Table Texada Vodka, Left Coast Hemp Vodka, and Schramm Potato Vodka. Price varies with availability. Sometimes Xfour Bremner Blueberry Vodka, discussed here some months ago, is also available. Bartender Peter Sullivan will advise you.