Why Wine Won’t Win in Bars

Written by on March 31, 2011 in Wine - 10 Comments

This is a guest post from Sean Hertzsch. Sean is a bourbon and beer guy that really likes wine. He avoids vodka as much as possible, but gin makes him happy. He likes to think of himself as a well rounded drinker, but we will see what happens at the end of the night. Sean blogs at http://minguswaits.com

Creative Commons Photo Credit: quinnanya

I could really go for a glass of wine. Read: Wine, not: boxed grape juice that has been aged with sugar and yeast to make alcohol. My problem is that I’m at a pretty typical Columbus bar with a fine selection of craft beers and a nice variety of spirits, even some local spirits like OYO. But because it’s a typical bar, I’m hard pressed to get a glass of wine that doesn’t come in a box.

I don’t normally bother with wine. When I go to a bar it is tough enough to get good beer, let alone a decent glass of wine.  What ends up happening is I look over the wine selection, inquire about prices and end up going for a craft beer that makes me happy. Why? Because you can’t get decent wine at a decent price at most local bars.

People that drink wines are considered snooty know-it-all’s because they have to be. Wine takes on the characteristics of the climate in which it is grown, the environment/soil in which it is grown, and all of the subtleties of the fermentation process. Beer can be formulaic because the wheat doesn’t change that much. The yeast, hop, malt, combo is awesome but it is typically strain dependent not climate dependent. This is part of why it has taken so long for craft beers to make their way to a moderate level of “main stream” society; the complexity of flavors becomes too difficult to assess. But the truth is, wine changes from bottle to bottle not just batch to batch. Beer can be replicated, wine is too complex.

I am a beer man that drinks and appreciate wines. I like to think of myself as a “Wine Punk”. I know how to define characteristics of wine and I can differentiate a good wine from a bad wine (If it tastes good to me, it is a good wine, if it doesn’t, it is a bad wine. Typically). I just can’t substantiate paying $35 for a bottle of wine that costs the bar less than $8 retail (I’m not kidding, the markup is huge for wine). It is funny because I will pay $6 for a 2oz shot from a bottle of booze that costs $18 but I can’t see paying $6 for a glass of wine? WHY IS THIS? I have no explanation. All I can say is that the booze is consistent and the wine will change every month.

All that said, I don’t think wine will ever be “mainstream” at bars, but damnit, I am still going to choose a glass of wine over a pint of beer when I manage to find a good wine at a good price. IF I manage.

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10 Comments on "Why Wine Won’t Win in Bars"

  1. cherylharrison March 31, 2011 at 1:32 PM · Reply

    My issue with ordering wine at a bar (assuming we’ve actually found one with more than boxed wine) is that I don’t know that much about wine – certainly not anywhere near as much as I know about beer – and I always feel like either the bartender doesn’t either, or the bartender is condescending because I DON’T know. Thoughts?

  2. Ryan March 31, 2011 at 2:11 PM · Reply

    “Beer can be formulaic because the wheat doesn’t change that much. The yeast, hop, malt, combo is awesome but it is typically strain dependent not climate dependent.”

    Only a minority of beer styles are brewed with wheat, the vast majority rely on malted barley. Look for upcoming Beer Ingredients posts on malt! And yes, while a lot of the variation in beer is strain dependent, this is comparable to different varieties of grape that go into wine making. There is some variation based on growing region with malt and hops (German or UK grown vs US grown, etc), but to a somewhat lesser degree.
    In my opinion, the differences between wine and beer consistency is due to a couple of things. In making beer, the complexity of the final product is largely determined prior to the start of fermentation, through ingredient selection, while for wine, the complexity comes through later. Also, wine is a once a year product and annual variation comes through a lot more than beer, which has a shorter turn around time. There are many craft beers that do change from year to year, and while consistency in beer is more highly touted, those beers that put consistency above quality become the beer equivalent of the consistently blah juice from a box.

  3. Bobby Roberts April 4, 2011 at 10:06 AM · Reply

    It’s sad that I know of a lot of bars that still serve boxed wine. A lot of places don’t know how to present wine, a lot of servers need trained on this aspect.

  4. Mingus Waits April 4, 2011 at 1:11 PM · Reply

    The concept of training bartenders and servers in the “mystic” art of wines seems to fall short for all but the fanciest of restaurants. Unfortunately, the best bet for finding good wines is still going to be spending time in wine stores and being willing to talk to that “wine snob” stocking the shelves. I don’t see this changing for a while.

    • Ryan April 12, 2011 at 1:21 PM · Reply

      I’m laughing at the thought of a customer describing me as a ‘wine snob’ heheh.

      Another thing that wine has going against it is that for the average bar, serving wine by the glass (particularly red) has issues with shelf life once it’s opened. If they don’t finish that bottle, it’s gonna get oxidized and go off. Beer has the advantage of being either on draught, or in smaller bottles than wine (single serve). I don’t see splits becoming widely used, although you can sometimes find them for champagnes in particular. I do think that there may be a trend towards putting better domestic wines in boxes, it cuts down on packaging and shipping costs, and allows for pouring of wine without the whole container going off it isn’t finished. I don’t think that European wines will be coming in boxes any time soon, but could see this for domestics and potentially Australian wines. This would make a wider selection of wines available for bars.

      The other thing I’ve heard of is wine pouring systems that push the wine out of the bottle with non-reactive gas, essentially treating each bottle like a 750ml keg. However, for most bars this would be a substantial investment.

      • Ryan April 12, 2011 at 1:26 PM · Reply

        Found an image of what I’m talking about with the pouring system. It pushes the wine with nitrogen or argon, Enomatic is the maker of this example.


        • Tony April 19, 2011 at 11:32 PM · Reply

          Nice post and comments. I work in the wine trade and agree wholeheartedly.

          Not knowing how long that “by the glass” wine has been open is a mystery that is steeped in a trust between customer and proprietor/bartender. If the place is reputable and cares about your experience, you should have no qualms about returning that $7.50 pour that you don’t think is tasting as it should.

          As for the Enomatic machines, check out the new Giant Eagle in Upper Arlington. They have an 8 bank of red and whites, with 1oz to 4oz pours, purchased via their wine “debit” card.

  5. Molly Borchers April 4, 2011 at 8:54 PM · Reply

    Totally agree. Most “bars” have shit for wine. Tonight, I asked for a wine list at a bar and the bartender said “well, we have some cabernet and some merlot.” I asked from where and he said “uh… I don’t know. does it matter?” Uhm, yes it matters. Very much, actually. I ended up drinking a Stella.

  6. Brian May 1, 2011 at 1:56 PM · Reply

    I agree it’s tough, but I like your term “wine punk”. I think its interesting that, like wine, most people are willing to put up with bad beer. Maybe it’s because when you chill stuff down (note this all those beers advertising how COLD they are) you can really taste anything. Its just cold, fizzy, and alcoholic. I believe the saying “Life is too short to drink bad wine (or beer)”.

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