Sunday, July 26, 2009

Straight Outta Little Compton

Spent the past several days with BrooklynLady and the kids in Rhode Island visiting family. I'm talking coastal Rhode Island, near Newport. This is classic New England. There are farms - cattle, horse, and vegetable. There are astonishingly beautiful rocky coastlines, sandy bluffs covered in long salty grasses, and creaky fishing boats. The houses are stately and tend to have worn cedar shingles that beg to be touched, as if they will reveal the scents of clam chowder and wood burning in the fire place. There are young men who, not being ironic, wear dress shirts tucked into bright pink pants and docksiders. There was a woman who used the expression "I'm as deaf as a haddock."

Our older daughter played with a pail and shovel on the beach, and threw rocks into the water. We drank a lot of good coffee and a lot of good wine. It was incredibly quiet at night. We had a wonderful time.

One evening BrooklynLady and I went with another couple to dinner at a restaurant called Pietra, in a town called Little Compton. I couldn't stop snickering at the fact that a town in this part of the world shares its name with Compton in Los Angeles, an entirely different kind of place to be sure. Anyway, there was one thing about the restaurant that I thought was fantastic - every single wine on their list was offered by the glass. The list wasn't huge, but it wasn't small either. Maybe 5-7 sparkling wines, 15-20 whites, and 15-20 reds. Some interesting selections too. I considered the 2004 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant at about $25 per glass, but in the end had a glass of the 2007 Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss Gewurztraminer with lobster bisque (wine and bisque were both delicious), and a glass of the 2006 Billard Pere et Fils Auxey-Duresses Les Joncheres with braised lamb (wine was good, lamb merely okay).

I love the idea of pouring everything by the glass. It allows everyone to drink exactly what they want, encourages experimentation, even with expensive wines, and allows for the enjoyment of several kinds of wine with the various courses of dinner. And the restaurant wins too - selling wine by the glass is more profitable for the restaurant than selling wine by the bottle. Or is it? Why don't restaurants offer all wines by the glass, instead of a select (and usually insipid) few?

The obvious problem is simply that the restaurant cannot guarantee that the entire contents of the bottle will sell before the product loses its value. An inexpensive wine might sell quickly, but a more expensive wine, such as that Nicolas Joly Savennières - opening a bottle for my glass would probably result in a loss of money. Even though the wine improves for a week after opening.

So how does Pietra do it - offering every wine by the glass? Perhaps they accept losses in selling certain wines by the glass, and make it up elsewhere, through expensive cocktails and inexpensive wines. Perhaps they aren't doing careful accounting. Who knows? I have never seen this before, a restaurant that offers every wine by the glass, although I have fantasized about running such a place myself. I want to know their secret. What are they doing with the stale Coulée de Serrant?

Can this really be done, offering every wine by the glass, including the fancy stuff?


Wicker Parker said...

What crazy person decided it was OK (from a financial perspective) to serve Coulée de Serrant by the glass? Me, I'd jump for it, as I've never had that particular Joly wine, but other than the persons reading this note right now, I'm not sure about anyone else. I can only conclude that the restaurant serves it as one of their prix fixe wines and thus knows they can profit from it unless something really weird happens (e.g. one person orders one glass, and not one customer orders prix fixe in the 7 subsequent days).

The restaurant seems pretty pricey overall, so maybe they're raking it in. That could be a factor.

I'd love it if more restaurants and even food-oriented wine bars opened more of their lists to by-the-glass options. Too many (for me) have short glass lists and long bottle lists; it should be the reverse, although I'd never blame anyone for serving the Coulée de Serrant by the bottle only, given how expensive it is.

ned said...

Several possibilities

They have some kind of gas preservation system.

The staff pushes what's open as suggestions to indecisive customers.

Staff gets to finish fading bottles as a perk.

They offer everything but are actually rarely ever called upon to open more than half the offerings.

Cost of discarded wine deducted as an expense.

Some combination of all of the above.

Something tells me little or nothing is wasted.

Jack Everitt said...

Coulée de Serrant go stale? Oh, Neil!

Scott Reiner said...

try the monday room in nyc. great list, and everything is available by the glass, too!

Mark said...

Interesting to say the least. It was hard to get past the Little Compton part, but the wine by the glass business seems to make for some interesting pairings across the country.

Thanks for the tip!

Do Bianchi said...

BrooklynGuy, you're description of New England is spot-on ol' chap. Neither Fitzgerald nor McInerny could have done it better. (I feel your Brooklyn pain.)

@WickerParker reiterating what Jack said, Joly — any of the crus — is great to serve btg since it is famous for its longevity once opened...

Great post and now I know where to go if I ever find myself — ahem — in Newport...

Arjun said...

Any more details on the Kreydenweiss? I had their basic Riesling recently and was quite intrigued.

Wicker Parker said...

@Do B, no argument here about chenin's legendary ageability when done right in the right place. But even though the 2004 Joly might well improve for a week after opening, as Neil mentioned (although both Neil and Rational Denial noted the Clos Sacrés's mood swings over multiday periods), I can still imagine that two weeks (or more!) could go by between single-glass orders of a $25 glass of Savennières. So I would assume that the wine is part of the prix fixe menu; that would provide some insurance. Not that assumptions get a person very far...

Brooklynguy said...

@ mike - i hear you, but it's not only for prix fixe - anyone can buy a glass at any time.

@ned - there may be gas preservation, but they do bring the bottle to the table when they pour. and regarding staff pushing wine - didn't happen in the least. this place is kind of isolated, and seemed to employ mostly very young people as servers. my guess is that they don't know a whole lot about wine.

@jack - i said that it improves for a week...sorry to imply an insult to your joly sensibilities!

@ scott - tried it a while back with the wife. they do offer loads by the glass, thanks for reminding.

@ mark - i couldn't get past it either, and kept expecting to be carjacked. it didn't happen though, thank goodness.

@Jeremy - thanks for the compliments, which are as usual, over the top.

@Arjun - it was also the basic bottling, simply the Gewurztraminer. it was dry and herbal and acidic and totally great.

Chris said...

good post :) I love large wine by the glass selections for the experimentation angle and because my wife is allergic to Red we frequently have different choices at dinner so 375ml and glasses come in handy

Good article in NYT about barrel pours

James said...

At 25, considering the cost of the 05 vintage, you're probably paying the cost of the bottle and possibly a tiny bit on top. Everything else is gravy. It's a cash flow decision.

1WineDude said...

It can, indeed be done. Near and in Philly, we have a few restaurants with special preservation / serving systems that allow several bottles to stay fresh enough for extended periods of time to support many by-the-glass options.

There are a *very* few restaurants where the wine directors actually help to blend wine with winemakers in order to offer tasty & relatively inexpensive by-the-glass offerings as well (Seasons52 comes to mind).