By-the-glass wines consistently drive revenue in any restaurant program, but a little creativity is required when it comes to offering exceptional value to guests. Finding the wines that will sell like wildfire is the name of the game. SevenFifty Daily asked 20 U.S. sommeliers and wine directors to name a by-the-glass pour that they can’t keep in stock. For some, off-the-charts sales might mean that they run through one case a week; for others, it might mean 10 times that much. But staff enthusiasm, supreme value, and harmonious pairings can elevate BTGs to MVPs. (All wines are listed with price per glass.)
1. Renato Ratti Battaglione Barbera d’Asti 2012, Piedmont, Italy; $15
Brooklyn-based Master Sommelier Alexander LaPratt believes that the by-the-glass list is the most important part of any wine program—no matter how many “unicorn” wines are available by the bottle. “Most guests will drink from the by-the-glass selection,” he says, “and a single glass can easily change a person’s life.” For the glass pours at Atrium DUMBO, LaPratt looks to classic regions—and always includes a handful of older vintages. Early this fall, he brought on Renato Ratti’s Battaglione Barbera d’Asti because of its ability to transport his guests to the crisp air and damp soil of Piedmont. With six years of age, the wine clocks in at just $15, says LaPratt, “while supplies last.”
STAY IN THE KNOW
Sign up for SevenFifty Daily’s twice-weekly newsletter.
2. Wimmer-Czerny Roter Veltliner Alte Reben 2013, Wagram, Austria; $13
Served by Brent Kroll, sommelier and proprietor, Maxwell Park; Washington, D.C.
When Brent Kroll opened his Maxwell Park wine bar in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C., last year, it stood out for several reasons. For one, there are always three experienced sommeliers on duty. Also, the wines are stored at several temperatures (depending on the variety), and Kroll and his team create monthly themed wine lists—such as Back to Skool (old-school classics meet new kids on the block) and an all-Riesling lineup—with 50 wines available by the glass at any time. There’s always something new to discover here—even for the wine geek set. Case in point: this Roter Veltliner from Austria, which has become a staple at Maxwell Park. “It’s spiced like a Grüner,” Kroll says, “[and is] oily, textured, and at a really fair price for an aged, complex white.”
3. RouteStock Route 29 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley, California; $16
Served by Jack Mason, MS, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse; Houston and Dallas
At this classic Texas steakhouse chain, Cabernet Sauvignon is king. In fact, the by-the-glass list at its three outposts currently includes five Cabernet Sauvignon–heavy wines. But these days, this Route 29 from Napa’s RouteStock is outselling the rest, with each location running through two or three cases a week. Cabs in the $15 to $19 range always perform best on Mason’s lists. He and his team regularly conduct blind tastings of affordable Cabernets; this was a standout, with freshness and rich black fruit. “Napa Cabernet that can be offered at $16 a glass is becoming increasingly rare,” Mason says, “so to find one that meets the price point and is so tasty was like striking gold.”
4. Montalbera Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato La Tradizione 2016, Piedmont, Italy; $14
Served by Sam Bogue, wine director, Ne Timeas Restaurant Group; San Francisco
At Flour + Water in San Francisco, pastas and pizzas have a California farm-to-table bent, but the wine list is entirely Italian. The wine director, Sam Bogue, looks to expose guests to varieties they might not be all that familiar with. While he has a nice selection of Nebbiolos on his list, he also pours Ruchè, to show the breadth of Piedmont—in particular, this one from Montalbera for its price-value ratio, mindful farming and production, and juicy flavor profile—a crowd-pleaser by the glass. He attributes the success of this wine at Flour + Water to his staff’s enthusiasm. “The largest reason any wine moves quickly [at our restaurant] is that the staff loves it,” says Bogue, adding that his team even had the chance to meet Montalbera’s winemaker, Franco Morando, in person.
5. Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva 2014, Rioja, Spain; $11
Served by Stella Hernandez, co-owner and wine director, Lolita Vinoteca + Asador; Portland, Maine
Following the lead of a kitchen that’s focused on Mediterranean cuisine, Lolita Vinoteca sommelier Stella Hernandez tends to stick to wines from Mediterranean countries for her list. Her guests have become particularly fond of her selections from Spain, like the Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva, a Tempranillo-based blend with Graciano and Mazuelo. The 2014 vintage, which is just now showing some savory notes, delivers added value for a by-the-glass wine. “It’s got a lovely balance of fruit, acidity, and structure,” Hernandez says, “and holds up really well to a lot of the dishes prepared in our wood-fired grill.”
6. Zarate Albariño 2017, Rías Baixas, Spain; $13
Served by Matt Stamp, MS, co-owner, Compline Wine Bar and Restaurant; Napa, California
At Compline, his year-old Napa wine bar, restaurant, and retail shop, Master Sommelier Matt Stamp caters to two distinct audiences: wine tourists and industry friends. “This is the style of Albariño that actually makes sommeliers like Albariño,” Stamp says. “It’s not too bitter, and it doesn’t smell like Viognier.” Zippy with acidity, reminiscent of Atlantic beaches, and just 13 bucks a glass, the Zarate is a fresh lift for those who work with big, local Cabernets all day.
7. Les Vins Contés Cheville de Fer Vin de France 2016, Loire Valley, France; $16
Everything at Bar Covell is a hand-sell. On any given day, the wine director, Matthew Kaner, offers 150 by-the-glass pours—but no paper wine list. His guests expect to be taken on an adventure and to enjoy a conversation with their server. A favorite staff recommendation: this Cheville de Fer, made by Les Vin Contés from carbonically macerated Côt (Malbec). Kaner says that this wine toes the line between a classic varietal flavor and a unique style. “It has become an unsung hero at Bar Covell,” he says, “because it unites both natural-wine fans and those who aren’t into natural wine at all.”
8. I Clivi di Ferdinando Zanusso Vigna 80 Anni Malvasia Collio 2016, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy; $21
Served by Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director, Casa Lever; New York City
The classics are paramount at midtown Manhattan’s Casa Lever, says its wine director, Carrie Lyn Strong. Most guests at the Milanese-style restaurant expect Italian wine, and this aromatic white has become popular in both the main dining room and the restaurant’s outdoor garden. Over the summer, Strong started moving through four to six cases of this Malvasia per month, an increase of 50 percent since June. “I love that it pairs with almost every dish we serve,” Strong says of the gently herbal, chamomile-scented I Clivi Malvasia, made from the fruit of 80-year-old vines.
9. Domaine de la Dentelle Bugey Cerdon NV, Savoie, France; $19
Served by Emily Tolbert, sommelier and wine director, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse; Houston
Semisweet, pink, and bubbly Domaine de la Dentelle Bugey Cerdon would seem an unpredictable hit for a steakhouse in Houston, but sommelier Emily Tolbert has been selling a case per week, thanks to Houston’s heat and humidity. The wine’s popularity isn’t a total surprise to Tolbert, though, who says a significant number of her guests actually prefer sweet wines to the expected bold reds—but they were just ordering the same wine over and over. “Getting my guests to move from Moscato d’Asti to Bugey Cerdon is totally rad,” Tolbert says. “I love getting traditional steakhouse diners into untraditional, quirky wine. It gives the program breadth, which is so important.”
10. Wassererhof St. Magdalener 2016, Alto Adige, Italy; $13
Served by Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou, sommelier and beverage director, WM Restaurants; Sacramento, California
“Our restaurant is focused on seafood,” says Sacramento sommelier Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou, “but a lot of our guests still want to enjoy red wine with dinner.” For her, the Wassererhof St. Magdalener, a blend of Schiava and a touch of Lagrein, is the perfect bridge; it’s juicy, quaffable, and delicious with fish and octopus.
11. Von Winning Winnings Riesling 2016, Pfalz, Germany; $12
Served by Michael Ellmore, general manager and partner, Arcana Restaurant; Boulder, Colorado
The sommelier Michael Ellmore is a huge fan of Von Winning winemaker Stephan Attman, so being able to serve one of Attman’s wines by the glass is a personal treat for him. Early fall in Colorado is all about chiles, with which the slight sweetness of this Riesling works well. “The stigma from the general public around Riesling seems to finally be eroding,” Ellmore notes, “and people now understand that there is a lot of really fantastic dry and off-dry Riesling out there.”
12. Sartori di Verona Ferdi Bianco Veronese, Veneto, Italy; $11
“This is the Goldilocks of white wines,” says the consulting sommelier Jon McDaniel. A portion of the Garganega grapes used in this wine by Sartori di Verona are dried, appassimento style, giving the wine impressive concentration and body alongside freshness and salinity. This balance gives the wine the necessary versatility to complement the diverse menu at Chicago’s Union Sushi + Barbecue Bar, but it’s also become McDaniel’s go-to pairing for the lightly vinegared nigiri.
13. D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab 2016, McLaren Vale, Australia; $10
Served by Alisha Blackwell-Calvert, beverage director, Reeds American Table; Maplewood, Missouri
A partially barrel-fermented blend of Viognier and Marsanne, The Hermit Crab is crafted in a style familiar to New World Chardonnay lovers, with notes of fruit and oak, but it can also introduce drinkers to these lesser known varieties. Alisha Blackwell-Calvert, the Reeds sommelier, says real magic happens when the wine is served with chef Matthew Daughaday’s exceedingly popular mushroom lasagna. “This wine crushes it on its own,” Blackwell-Calvert says, “but paired with the right dish, its true potential shows.” The record number of glasses of The Hermit Crab sold in one service stands at 30—that’s a total of six bottles—but Blackwell-Calvert notes that the restaurant typically runs through two bottles a day.
14. Baron de Brane Margaux 2012, Bordeaux, France; $19
Served by Andrew Schawel, sommelier and beverage director, Bullion Restaurant; Dallas
“This appeals to the palate of a market that tends to be oriented around California Cab,” says Andrew Schawel, the sommelier at Dallas’s year-old French bistro Bullion. “But it’s still unmistakably Bordeaux.” The Baron de Brane is the second wine from second-growth Bordeaux producer Château Brane-Cantenac, and it presents a more approachable side of the château. Schawel, who has had this Cabernet Sauvignon–dominant wine on his by-the-glass list almost since the restaurant opened, says, “Most guests order more than one glass.”
15. Lackner Tinnacher Morillon 2017, Styria, Austria; $14
Served by Laura Staley, wine director, Island Creek Oyster Bar; Burlington, Massachusetts
“Katherine Tinnacher is a badass vintner,” says Laura Staley, the wine director at Island Creek Oyster Bar’s Burlington, Massachusetts, location. “One of my biggest battles has been broadening my guests’ idea of how Chardonnay can translate in the glass.” Tinnacher’s Morillon is elegant and mineral-driven, much in the style of Chablis—just at a more approachable price point. The wine pairs perfectly with the coastal cuisine of the restaurant.
16. Nickel & Nickel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Rutherford, California; $35
Served by Petra Polakovicova, wine director, EPIC Steak; San Francisco
The 2014 vintage of Nickel & Nickel’s Quarry Cabernet is exclusive to EPIC Steak, something the restaurant’s wine director, Petra Polakovicova, believes has made it a popular, recognizable pour—despite the high price tag. “The retail price for this wine is about $110,” Polakovicova says, “so guests are happy to try a glass without having to commit to a full bottle.” The wine’s dark fruit, spice aromas, and velvety texture particularly complement the restaurant’s steaks.
17. Le Vigne di Zamò Ramato Pinot Grigio 2016, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy; $16
Sepia has attracted quite a bit of attention over the past decade for embracing quirky, off-the-beaten-path bottles while maintaining a sense of the classic. Jennifer Wagoner, who took over the program last December, continues in this vein with options like the Vigne di Zamò Ramato, Sepia’s only orange wine offered by the glass. Despite an increased awareness of orange wine—and the restaurant list’s full-page description of the style—Wagoner says that “many of our guests have not had Pinot Grigio vinified in this style.” Not only does this Ramato provoke conversation among diners, but it pairs supremely well with a range of dishes. “There is a great deal of versatility when pairing this wine,” Wagoner notes, “and the added structure pairs with dishes where white wine just isn’t quite right and lighter reds are too much.” Wagoner sells three cases of this wine a week, compared with one or two cases of other BTG wines.
18. Orin Swift Abstract 2016, St. Helena, California; $24
Served by Brian Lebrasseur, wine director, American Cut Midtown, New York City
When American Cut Midtown’s guests automatically order a glass of Malbec, sommelier Brian Lebrasseur instead pours Orin Swift’s Abstract, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah sourced from vineyards across California. It’s an all-American version of the bold, fruity, spicy style that the restaurant’s guests are looking for. “This wine is inky with tons of ripe and jammy fruit, sweet spice, and silky tannins,” says Lebrasseur. That guests recognize Orin Swift because of founder Dave Phinney’s wildly popular Prisoner wines makes Abstract a popular by-the-glass option.
19. La Stoppa Trebbiolo Rosso 2016, Emilia-Romagna, Italy; $15
Served by Michelle Miller, wine director, Esoteric Wine Bar; Reno, Nevada
Downtown Reno’s West Street Market food hall opened nearly a decade ago as a hub for restaurants offering good food made from high-quality, organic ingredients. Whether guests are going for wood-fired pizza or Punjabi Indian cuisine, most stop by Esoteric Wine Bar to select an accompanying glass—and Michelle Miller is ready to suggest one of 40 pours. “Elena Pantaleoni [La Stoppa’s owner and grower] is a rock star in the natural-wine world,” Miller says. While this blend of Barbera and Bonarda from Emilia-Romagna is out of the mainstream, guests have become accustomed to trying something new on Miller’s recommendation, and the Trebbiolo’s juicy, easy-drinking fruit keep it versatile and approachable.
20. Keep Picpoul–Grenache Blanc Blend 2016, Dunnigan Hills, California; $9
Served by Colleen Kretchmer, cofounder, Cadet Wine + Beer Bar; Napa, California
Considering Cadet Wine + Beer Bar’s location in the heart of downtown Napa, it’s not all that surprising that its wine selection is, in the words of co-owner Colleen Kretchmer, “unabashedly pro-California.” This white blend from the Napa-based Keep husband-and-wife winemaking team of Jack Roberts and Johanna Jensen easily satisfies a guest looking for an affordable and drinkable wine. But it also piques the interest of industry members—a large part of Cadet’s clientele—with its quirky grapes from an up-and-coming region, and the minimal intervention of its winemaking style. “I like everything about this wine,” Kretchmer says. “The crisp, salty, green-apple flavors and the young, passionate people who make it.”
Courtney Schiessl is a Brooklyn-based wine journalist, educator, and consultant who has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir. She has written for Forbes.com, VinePair, and Wine Folly, among other publications, and she is currently pursuing the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits. Follow her Champagne-fueled adventures on Instagram at @takeittocourt.