Wine by the Glass in Toronto Restaurants (October 9, 2007)
Bizarre as it may sound, sometimes you don't feel like drinking a whole bottle of wine with dinner. You may just want a glass of something special that you can't afford by the bottle. Or you might want to try two or three different wines with various courses during a meal. But which restaurants do the best job of offering a range of wines by the glass in our city?
Before I answer that question, there are certain things you should look out for when you dine out. Restaurants that have wine-by-the-glass programs usually stipulate the amount of the pour in ounces on their wine list. Check this out. A 750 mL bottle contains 26 ounces, so you can compare the glass price to that of the full bottle. The price per glass will be higher than the price of the bottle divided by the number of pours because of the extra waiter time involved in serving, extra glass washing, spillage, wine left over, etc. But this price differential should not be egregiously out of whack. If it is, find another restaurant.
When you order by the glass, don't expect the server to pour to the brim. Few restaurants have a designated stemware for by-the-glass clients. So your six-ounce pour in a ten-ounce glass may look meager to you.
Invariably, when you order by the glass, the server will bring the wine from the bar already poured. This is not a good idea for you. You want to see the label to make sure it corresponds to the wine you ordered (this is not a failsafe way of ensuring you get what you asked for, since some unscrupulous licensees have been known to pour the dregs of one bottle into another). The only way you'll know for certain is if the waiter opens a fresh bottle in front of you. Before you decide on which glass to order, ask if the restaurant will open a fresh bottle for you. Try at all costs to avoid the heel of the bottle, since the wine has probably been standing around much of the day quietly oxidizing and will taste like stewed prunes or browning apples. White wine tends to be a better bet in this regard because it is kept chilled, which slows down the oxidation process.
Here are my recommendations of wine-by-the-glass destinations:
Reds Bistro, 77 Adelaide Street West, has the most wines by the glass, 70 in total in both seven-ounce and three-ounce pours. The emphasis here is more on New World than Old World. Sommelier Taylor Thompson. Reds bistro is launching an innovative new cheese program starting Oct. 1 that will feature more than 35 cheeses hand selected by Reds' chef Michael Steh in collaboration with The Cheese Boutique. The cheeses will be offered via trolley service in the dining room, plated via special menu in the wine bar.
Kultura, 169 King Street East. Virtually every wine on this list you can order by the glass or the bottle 47 in all including four sparking wines. The pour is five ounces but you can also order a third of the bottle as a terzo. Sommelier Kim Cyr is very knowledgeable, so be guided by her.
Il Mulino, 1060 Eglinton Avenue West. Owner Mike Pagliaro has put together an impressive Italian cellar of close to 500 labels, weighted heavily to high-end Italian wines. He says: "When it comes to wines by the glass we are flexible. We will open most bottles so please feel free to ask and we will try to accommodate you."
Cava, 1560 Yonge Street. As the name suggests, this Spanish-influenced eatery has the best sherry list in the city, 17 by the glass. The wine list, again weighted to the Iberian Peninsula, offers 23 by the glass including three Spanish cavas (sparkling wines.)
Crush Wine Bar, 455 King Street West. Wine Director Jamieson Kerr and Sommelier Eric Gennaro offer 30 wines by the glass in three- or five-ounce pours with generous wine notes on each carefully chosen product. The bottle list is huge.
Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, 9 Church Street. Jamie Drummond has been styled the Indiana Jones of sommeliers. He sniffs out esoteric, off-the-beaten track wines for serving in three-ounce or six-ounce portions. You'll find hard-to-get Prince Edward County Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays here. The wines-by-the-glass list changes weekly.
Sette Mezzo, 936 Eglinton Avenue West. Über-sommelier Zoltan Szabo has created a vast wine list for such a small restaurant, with some 65 wines by the glass more if Zoltan is on the floor and there's something you really fancy.
Bluestone, 4261 Highway 7, Unionville. Wine is front and centre in this large modern restaurant, which has won the Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence" and the Ontario VQA "Award of Excellence" for two years running. You can order 20 wines by the glass from the nifty 125 selections on the list.