Ever been wary of a “Wines by the Glass” list? Been dubious the wines were opened two days prior to your debut at the bar? Or better yet, ever been overwhelmed by a list that’s a real list, offering an ample array of wines you’ve never heard of? The bars/restaurants that take their glass pours seriously are a rare and wonderful breed. The trick is navigating their list with style and grace. Not always an easy task!
The Achilles Project/Persephone here in Beantown offers more than 20 different wines by the glass. To me, this is the first indicator they are serious about wine. The second indicator is that a good number of the wines on their list are “nerdy” (read: boutique offerings you don’t see everyday). Like the boutique shop they run up front, they are focused on being fashion-forward, offering something new for folks to try. And because they are serious about glass pours, they also tend to be on the lookout for any wine that is past its prime, giving customers a greater opportunity to enjoy a “fresh” experience. Sign me up!
Today I thought it would be fun to go through their “Wine By The Glass” list and pick out a handful of grapes that might cause a customer or two to scratch their head – when really they should be doing a little jig and embracing the list’s fabulous uniqueness. Buckle your seat belt!
Lambrusco: This red wine varietal from Emilia Romagna, Italy is something else… Lightly sparkling (frizzante, as the Italians like to say), this wine offers smart red berry fruit flavors, often with just a touch of sweetness eminating from the ripe grapes they pick for this elixir. Think antipasto or anything with a touch of saltiness or lightly fried (calamari anyone?) as a perfect pairing. Or sip it on it’s own! It’s a real charmer.
Assyrtiko/Asirtiko: This white grape varietal may have different spellings, but to me they say the same thing: crisp, citrus deliciousness. The closest “mainstream” varietal I can reference for new Assyritko drinkers would be Sauvignon Blanc. But Assyrtiko brings additional minerality and even a hint of smoke to the table. This is a probably one of the most well respected varietals in Greece, with its real home in Santorini. Unique, bright goodness in your glass.
Scheurebe: This is one of Germany’s best known hybrid varietals, yet it is still somewhat of an orphan…. DNA tests prove that this grape’s dad is Riesling, but Mom is still unknown (though previously thought to be Sylvaner). Gotta love a freak! This wine typically offers tremendous floral aromatics and a touch of residual sugar (RS). Tasting the wine out on the town can be a bit of a gamble, but your bartender should be able to guide you on just how sweet it is (though often enough you’ll find they err on the drier side). Very much worth the experimentation, I’ve found. Often a great match for slightly spicy Asian dishes.
As for the Reds on their list, well…. some of these may be better paired with food than as a “cocktail wine” but it is certainly not everyday you see Austria’s own delicious and lightly refreshing test-tube varietal Zweigelt on the roster, let alone a Mencia or a even a Monastrell (the Spanish name for the grape Mouvedre, which is better recognized in French wines). Nero d’Avola is up and coming, thought to be a pseudo Syrah with additional notes of currants, clove and vanilla; I find them more often distinct in their own right and offering far less oomph than Syrah can. But they are often just the thing to scratch the itch at a very reasonable price. Carignane can be wonderful, but I prefer to enjoy it when dinner’s up, rather than at the bar with friends. I find it too dry, earthy and edgy without a bit of food on hand.
Any which way you look at it, the key thing is context. Do you want to sip something easy like a bit of Zweigelt while you chat with friends? Do you prefer something more familiar but still adventurous (like an Assyritko) to take the edge off a long day? Or do you crave a bit more body in your wine as you snack throughout the evening? If you’re unsure you can either start with a bit of bubbly or white wine to get the ball rolling – and you can always ask your bartender for a recommendation to suit your mood!
Half the fun of wine is where you are, what you’re doing or who you are with. It’s worth a touch of experiment; don’t you agree?