For those who like to try different wines, a restaurant’s wine list is only as good as its by-the-glass menu. Curating a by-the-glass list can be tricky; selections must complement a medley of dishes, while also balancing traditional tastes and more esoteric experiences. On top of that, there should be options for every budget, so guests can try multiple wines, or order something really special without having to commit to a bottle.
Ordering wine by the glass is all about being comfortable, having fun, and learning — and yes, professionals order wine by the glass, too. To find out which wines are the best finds, VinePair reached out to 10 wine pros across the country to share their tips. Here’s what to look for on by-the-glass wine lists.
“BTG programs are so often overlooked, even by restaurants that have an otherwise great program. Two varietals I always try to have by the glass are Gruner Veltliner and Nebbiolo. Gruner is an easy transition for people wanting a Sauvignon Blanc and likewise Nebbiolo for people wanting Pinot Noir. They are both food-friendly varietals that can get people out of their box.” — Matthew Pridgen, Wine Director, Underbelly Hospitality, Houston, TX
“I think Grenache is an all too forgotten wine that is perfect for most BTG programs. It’s a little sturdier than Pinot Noir but still incredibly versatile to pair with so many different ingredients. Depending on the cuisine being served, you can choose Grenache from various parts of the world with different flavor profiles that will fit into just about any menu.” — Tiffany Kuhn, Estate Sommelier, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Healdsburg, CA
“Something red from Sicily, like a Nero d’Avola or Frappato, or a blend of the two. The quality is awesome, and the plain drinkability makes it great for ‘by the glass,’ because the customers can’t help but finish glass after glass.” — Jeremy Allen, Certified Sommelier and General Manager, MiniBar Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA
“Sparkling wine without a doubt! It’s by far the most versatile food wine out there and there are great sparkling wines (and styles) in every price point. While we think of sparkling wine as a ‘special occasion’ wine it goes well with everything from potato chips to lobster. In fact, my favorite Champagne pairing is humble fried chicken with high-end Champagne. My current favorite on our by-the-glass list is a Spanish blanc de blancs from Raventos i Blanc.” — Angela Gargano, Director of Wine & Spirits, Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, MT
“Tempranillo because of its unique bouquet of complexity for a very affordable value. Tempranillo is always a crowd pleaser with versatility that goes great with any dish on the table.” — Brooke Warden, Owner and Certified Sommelier, Pink Cactus, Charleston, SC
“Every good restaurant’s wine list should include a nice bubbles option by the glass. Too often, customers are presented with a budget sparkling wine for a BTG pour. For those wanting to start with something of good quality like a true Champagne, they have to make the choice of getting a full bottle of bubbles or skipping it and getting a bottle of red or white with dinner. Having a nice by-the-glass sparkling option lets them have their glass for a toast, then ease into the dinner wine and gives the best of both worlds.” — Matthew Emborski, Sommelier, Hilton Norfolk The Main, Norfolk, VA
“Every good restaurant should have an approachable white Burgundy on their list. I hear so many people say things like ‘I don’t drink Chardonnay,’ or ‘I only drink reds,’ completely ignoring what I think is the best expression of the grape. There are so many beautiful examples for people to fall in love with, any decent restaurant should carry at least one.” — David Gibbs, Co-owner, Sushi Note, Sherman Oaks, CA
“I think this is heavily dependent on your restaurant concept and customer base. I like to offer options in the most popular categories. For example, one oaky buttery Chardonnay, and one that is crisp, bright, and lean. For Cabernet I want to have one that is more classically styled and shows some restraint and one that is big, bold, and in your face. I think you should have wines that pair well with your cuisine and make sense. Italian restaurants should have Chianti. Spanish restaurants should have some Rioja. Seafood-focused restaurants should have Muscadet and bubbles.” — Zackariah Taylor, Wine Director, Gibsons Italia, Chicago, IL
“A nice, affordable French sparkler — so everybody can feel special any day of the week.” — Jan Bugher, Manager/Wine Director, Bluebeard, Indianapolis, IN