The bar at Abe & Arthur's is packed with long legs and fitted leather. Suddenly, the crowd parts and heads swivel. Not for a boldface name, but for a torpedo-size bottle. It's being ceremoniously lugged by Bronx-born Peter Mastrogiovanni, the Meatpacking District hot spot's wine director, to the upstairs dining room.
This jeroboam (equal to four regular bottles) of Chateau de Beaucastel 1995 is a prestigious Chateauneuf-du-Pape from southern France. After 17 years of slumber in the big bottle, the wine is at its plush-textured peak. On Abe & Arthur's wine list, it would have cost upward of $800. But Mastrogiovanni offers it to diners by the glass for $29 – steep for most wines, but not for a truly prize pour. In less than two hours, the jeroboam is empty.
Rahav Segev / Photopass.com
Peter Mastrogiovanni, Abe & Arthur's wine director, offers a taste of luxury for under $30 a glass.
A Voce's Olivier Flosse says wine ages better in big bottles.
Big bottles, poured by the glass or carafe, debuted at Abe & Arthur's in November, fueling a trend pioneered a year earlier at Bar Boulud and at A Voce's Madison Avenue and Columbus Circle restaurants.
"Compared to regular bottles, wine ages more gracefully in big bottles, and you may get more interesting aromas," says Olivier Flosse, A Voce's wine director. "Sometimes we even think that it's not the same wine."
Most big bottles poured by the glass are red, but not at 4-month-old Crown on the Upper East Side. That's where willowy blond wine director Jordan Salcito pops the cork each evening on a different premium Champagne in magnums only, and pours it generously into deluxe Riedel flutes. "The best vessel for Champagne is a magnum," says Salcito, who selects only tętes de cuvée – each brand's best of the best.
"The difference between a basic bottling and a tętes de cuvée," says Salcito, "is like the difference between a Zara and a Stella McCartney blazer."
On a weeknight last month, Salcito picks Piper-Heidsieck Rare 1998, bottled only in magnums, and priced, like lobster, at "market" – $48 per pour for the Rare.
Notwithstanding the pricey bubbly at Crown, big-bottle pours are typically a bargain, given their rarity and quality. "My clientele feel that certain wines are outrageously expensive and for the private few," says Mastrogiovanni, who keeps his per-glass price under $30. "And this is a way to buck that." At Bar Boulud, Michael Madrigale keeps the lid on his big-bottle pours at $25 to $29 per glass – not cheap for an everyday wine, but an affordable way to sample aged rarities. Madrigale claims that he prices his big-bottle pours at cost.
Madrigale gets credit for starting the big-bottle trend, which was the result of a flash decision in 2010 to buy a methuselah (equal to eight regular bottles) of a great white Burgundy, Domaine Leflaive Montrachet 1991, that nobody else bid on.
"I decided, ‘OK, let me see if I can sell it by the glass,' " he says. He started on a Friday night, figuring he could sell whatever was left over on Saturday night. "By 6:30 p.m. that Friday, it was gone."
Madrigale procures big bottles, typically made in small quantities, from private collectors and auctions.
"Let's share these rare bottlings," he says, "and keep them out of the hands of the big collectors. That's my duty!"
Call it wine for the other 99 percent.
* Bar Boulud, 1900 Broadway. Wine guy Michael Madrigale tweets weekly big-bottle pours at @mikemadrigale.