Every wine drinker I know maintains at least one wine-related prejudice or another–whether he admits it or not. One friend, for example, abhors drinking white wine while another eschews all rosés (he has labeled them "Pepto de Provence.") Yet a third disdains Riesling on account of the bottle, which she calls a "needle nose." (She's a former fashion editor–of course.)
I have a wine prejudice of my own: I simply hate wines by the glass. But unlike most prejudices, born of ignorance and fear, my prejudice was acquired through experience.
Foremost among my glass-hating reasons is price. Wines by the glass are almost invariably the worst deal in the house. After all, the conventional rule of thumb calls for the price of the glass to equal the wholesale cost of the bottle, plus, often, a few dollars more. And with five glasses in a bottle (or four, at a more conservative measure) that's a profit margin so large that only the greediest restaurateurs would dare to charge a similar markup on a full bottle. As Michael Madrigale, wine director of New York's Bar Boulud, put it: "The wine-by-the-glass program pays for corked bottles and when wine gets sent back. For most wine directors, it's the profit engine of a wine list."
And yet no one seems to be protesting. In fact, there are more and more places that focus on wines by the glass. Take the number of wine bars that have opened in this country in recent years. (Wine bars are all about selling wine by the glass.) In New York alone, 69 new wine bars opened in 2010 as of late summer, making a total of 237 in the city. Many restaurants feature very large by-the-glass offerings, like Fleming's Steakhouse, which famously touts its "100 wines by the glass" program at all 64 locations in 28 states. Fleming's has even trademarked the amount, calling it "The New Fleming's 100" (which sounds to me like a Nascar event).
My sister in Dallas loves this sort of program. She loves to order wine by the glass because "you can try a bunch of different ones and if you don't like one you can throw it out–or finish it off–and try another." When I informed her that every glass she consumed–fully or otherwise–was actually funding the entire cost of the bottle, she affected a level of indifference that could best be described as Texas-sized. "I don't care. I would never bother to add it up," she said.
This is no doubt an attitude that restaurateurs hope all their customers will adopt. I suspect that the same people who aren't considering the cost of a glass aren't thinking much about the condition of the bottle either. They're unlikely to ask the waiter or bartender how long it was open, or for that matter, how it was stored. Yet both of these facts are tremendously important. An open bottle of wine on a warm bar deteriorates more rapidly than a bottle stored on a refrigerator shelf, while a wine open for five days or a week will taste very different than one just opened that day.