I have always been against ordering wine by the glass. In restaurants and wine bars I order a bottle even when this may seem too much.
Here’s a recent case in point: Flying through Sacramento Airport I stopped at a Vino Volo. I hadn’t visited one in years because I usually don’t have enough time at the gate. This time I did.
For those who don’t know, Vino Volo is a sheik chain of airport wine bars now present in over forty airports in the U.S. and Canada. Founded in 2004, they have been popular with the flying crowd, featuring as they do an eclectic collection of labels and some decent food to go with them.
There, I discovered a small wine list entirely by the glass. The prices were rather steep. One in particular caught my eye. It was a Fiano at $15 per glass.
Fiano is a relatively cheap Italian white varietal from the Campania region (around Naples and the Amalfi Coast). A dry, crisp, fruity wine, it is equally as good with food as for sipping. Since Fiano is not well known there isn’t much demand for it. Thus it carries a bargain price.
I flagged a waitress and asked if they sold any full bottles. They did. In fact, the whole wine list was available by the bottle. It just wasn’t announced in the menu. Looking around I could see why. All the tables were occupied by singles. How many people can down a whole bottle of wine in a hurry before boarding a plane?
The Fiano turned out to be $33 for a full bottle. I did the math. $15 per glass translated to around $60 per bottle. The bottle was reasonably priced. The glass? Not a bargain, for sure.
I’ll be damned, I said to myself, if I pay $15 for a f…ing glass of Fiano. I ordered the bottle.
Fianos are easy drinkers. This one was not from Campania but rather Puglia. It didn’t matter. It was equally as good. I downed the bottle it in fifty minutes with a plate of smoked salmon crostini.
I then boarded my ninety minute flight to San Diego, sleeping through most of it. If I were to drive at my destination I wouldn’t have had that bottle. I took an Uber to my hotel.
I don’t mean to disparage Vino Volo with this story. I think that this is one of the better chains in airports. My experience with this one didn’t change my mind. The food was good, the small wine list refreshingly diverse. The prices they charged by the glass however, were too much.
You might say, “Hey, it’s an airport! Everything is expensive there.”
True. But in this case, the bottle price was reasonable. Their business model relied on high demand for by-the-glass only. So they jacked up that one the accordingly.
Vino Volo is not the only proprietor that does this. The practice of price gouging for a glass of wine is widespread in wine bars and fancy restaurants. It is worse in chain restaurants such as Applebee’s or Chili’s where they sell humdrum “supermarket” labels at prices that are more per glass than the entire bottle retail.
High prices discordant with the bottle are not the only disadvantage of by-the-glass. One cannot know for sure when the bottle, from which the glass is served, was opened. For all you know they opened that bottle the day before or even longer and here you are, getting gouged for oxidized, stale wine.
Fancy wine bars, aware of this problem, have high-tech preservers prominently displayed, to disavow customers of this notion. At places with high turnover like Vino Volo you are less likely to run into stale wine.
Another problem with by-the-glass is that many who order one glass, then go for another. If a couple does that, they have just consumed bottle between them but paid a much higher total price.
Think about your wine habits next time you hit a restaurant or wine bar. If you think you can handle it, a full bottle is always a better choice.