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By the Glass Makes A Better World

Posted: Jan 5, 2007 10:22am ET

It was like we were at my home in Tuscany. My son, Jack, was speaking Italian to our waiter and joking with him that he should support the Florence soccer team instead of Torino’s Juventus, while my daughter Isabel was eating a pizza Margherita that looked thin, crunchy and delicious, like it had been made at our local pizzeria in San Giustino Valdarno. But this was Los Angeles … my real hometown.

I love Italian restaurants wherever they are, especially excellent ones with honest food and good wines, like Angelini Osteria. We started with a crispy, lightly battered fritti misti of thinly sliced vegetables and squid. As a main course,  I had a grilled swordfish steak over a bed of Swiss chard, and Jack had tagliolini with mussels, clams and shrimps in a light, brothy sauce with cherry tomatoes. A glass of a 2001 Nebbiolo and Barbera blend from Sylla Sebaste Bricco Viole went down great with the food. It was full-bodied, juicy and fruity with a jammy yet fresh character. 90 points, non-blind. I love drinking Barbera with fish. The bright fruit and good acidity along with low tannin structure makes it go wonderfully with seafood. The glass that followed, a 2004 Rapitalà Nero d'Avola-Cabernet Sauvignon Sicilia Nuhar,  was less exciting but it was better than any other vintage of this wine that I had tasted recently. 86 points. It was a little rustic but showed very good fruit concentration.

I noticed in the restaurant that just about everybody was drinking wines by the glass. In Europe, very few people do. Perhaps the drinking and driving laws are less strict – at least in Italy? Or people simply drink less in Southern California. In any case, I really enjoy ordering wine by the glass, especially if I am alone with my children. And there seems to be more restaurants in the States offering good by-the-glass programs than in other parts of the world.

A restaurant’s by-the-glass offer doesn’t have to be huge. I sometimes find it irritating in restaurants with 100 wines by the glass and most come from machines, which supposedly protect the wine under inert gas. I get worried that the machines don’t work properly or that they have not been maintained correctly. I prefer a smaller selection with a couple dozen or so of reds and whites … one that changes on a daily basis and that is selected with thought and care. 

Angelini Osteria obviously does that, and many restaurants are doing the same in America. It’s a better wine and food world for all of us.

Antonio Nieto
celaya, Mexico —  January 5, 2007 11:50am ET
hi James!!, last night a friend and I were chatting about a 1990 chateau latour he had at dinner. our comments are these; it was a 100 pt. rated (by you) wine, which he thought did not deserve because the wine was tight and not at its peak.Doing some research, we found your article "latour for dummies" and you write how that wine, uncorked in june 2006, was still "a baby" but it deserved a 100 pts. My question is, what is your criteria in rating a wine a 100 pts when is still tight and not at its best; what will you rate that wine in say 10 or 15 years, or well, what would you have rated that wine 5 years ago.By the way, next time you're in Mexico you're wellcome to visit my friend's cellar in Veracruz. I'm sure you'll be quite impressed. you'll find verticals of all 5 first grows, verticals of petrus, le pin, vega sicilia, opus one and screaming eagle. A few bottles from 1800's etc.I'm sure you'll enjoy that with some excellent cigars from veracruz and great tequila from Mexico.adios amigo!!
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  January 5, 2007 3:14pm ET
James, you surprise me. What Europe are you living in? In the Europe I live in, the wines by the glass, or more properly by the 250cl, 400cl, etc., are just about what everyone drinks--and they're all terrible as far as I'm concerned. Granted, I live in Germany where they cringe to spend more than 10 Euros on a bottle of anything. Still, they seem content to drink the junk and not complain. I'm a bottle drinker here too, but it's mainly because the house wines are so pathetic. Cripes, finding a decent full bottle is hard enough around here. Can anyone wonder why my wife and I like to visit France so much? - Jim
James Suckling
 —  January 5, 2007 11:54pm ET
May be you should try Italy.... It's a wine by the bottle culture in restaurants as well and the house wine by the glass is usually rubbish.
James Suckling
 —  January 6, 2007 12:02am ET
Antonio. Gracias. Entonces, voy a Veracruz! Seriously I might go this year. I have had the 1990 Latour various times, as you could see from my blog. When the wine was young, it as much more open and obviously perfect in every way. Now, it is very closed and tight, which is normal in the evolution of a great wine. If you want to try it again, decant it three or four hours before serving. See the difference. Or wait a decade...
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  January 6, 2007 11:20am ET
Oh we've tried Italy, and love it as well (if not more in many respects). It's just such a long haul to get there. We spent a week in the Friuli region in October, and it was just splendid. By the way, I brought 2001/2003 Fontodi Flaccianello to drink with our friends. You could tell the 2001 was better, but I had a hard time realizing the 97-point potential. Low 90s was a given, but 97? Infanticide? - Jim
James Suckling
 —  January 6, 2007 12:04pm ET
Good. 2001 Flacianello...enjoy it when you can. Great Sangiovese!
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  January 6, 2007 2:23pm ET
James, I have a case of the 2001. It was my first big purchase right after I moved back to Germany at about $43 or so per bottle from a low-key, small Weindepot. I used to buy up all his Fontodi Chianti, so I asked if he could get the big stuff too. I'm a big Fontodi fan. In fact, the owner at Fontodi gifted me with a '99 Flacianello when I visited back in 2002. He's extremely nice. And I agree. Great Sangiovese! - Jim
Charles Mathis
Germantown, —  January 7, 2007 9:02am ET
The last time (in the US) I ordered a wine-by-the-glass it was over-the-hill! I guess I'm doomed to always opening a bottle. Sometimes, I don't consume the entire bottle, and when that happens the servers have a great day....
John B Vlahos
Cupertino Ca. —  January 7, 2007 2:35pm ET
James you are lucky to find decent wines by the glass at a restaruant. Most of what I've been served was second rate. I usually find it easier to bring my own bottle, even if I have to take part of it home later or sometimes leave it for the staff. I don't enjoy being dissapointed, John B. Vlahos
Diane Rawson
Salt Lake City —  January 7, 2007 6:18pm ET
I no longer even bother buying wine by the glass. I live in Utah--granted not the best state for drinking wine--but even in some of the best restaurants I have been served wines by the glass that are clearly oxidized and no longer worth drinking. I once ordered a glass of champagne that was proudly placed before me with no bubbles. Given the relative value of a glass versus a bottle, I'd rather order the bottle, which allows a better selection, and have a better chance of getting a wine that is worth drinking.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  January 7, 2007 7:01pm ET
I too am noticing this trend of a more extensive and well-thought out wine by the glass menu (at least in Sacramento). All of the good ones will let you taste a few before you settle on the one to buy, which can be a huge bonus over the "by the bottle" program. Or, you can always bring your own, and eliminate any guess work. I check out the wine menus on line before I dine and decide which of the three options I will do in advance in order to maximize the adventure and "quality to price" ratio. I am a bit anal-compulsive, I realize, but I too hate to be dissappointed.
Brian Greenglass
Toronto, Canada —  January 10, 2007 10:29am ET
James: my wife and I are going to be in Italy in July. We decided to focus on Rome, Florence and the Maremma area. As part of my planning for this trip, I dug out the Wine Spectator issue on Tuscany from May 2000 (now my wife understands why I keep these issues around as a resource for future wine buying and trips). In Florence we decided to stay at Relais Santa Croce (which we found out after the fact is where Enoteca Pinchiorri is located) and in Maremma, we are going to stay at Alain Ducasse's L'Andana. I wondered if 6+ years later, you had any additional thoughts on Tuscan cooking schools, wineries to visit, new and exciting restaurants etc.. in Rome, Florence and the Grosseto/Maremma area.
Scott Mitchell
Toronto, Ontario —  January 19, 2007 12:21pm ET
Brian, my wife and I were in Italy for our honeymoon this past May and ate at one of the best restaurants we've ever been too. It's called SantoPadre and it's close to the Rome train station. It has no written menu (our server told us the only proper menu was one dictated by mother nature) so you simply wait for recommendations from your server or tell her what you're interested in and your meal arrives. We loved it so much we ate there two of the four nights we were in Rome (and chose it for our final dinner in Italy). If you get the chance, don't miss this place.
Phil Daniels
Philadelphia, PA —  January 19, 2007 11:44pm ET
I travel weekly between Philadelphia and Washington, DC and I can vouch that wine by the glass has brought me nothing but disappointment. Didn't I just read an article in WS entitled something along the lines of, "...please, a glass of wine that doesn't suck"?. Was it Molesworth? It's gotten to the point where I can tell right away if a wine selection was chosen by the distributor or if someone in-house actually cares about what they're serving. Even if it is chosen by someone with a semblance of an opinion about wine, the wine is often stale. I find one I willing to take a risk on, ask them to open a fresh one, and pray that Bacchus intervenes on my behalf.
Eric Arnold
NY, NY —  January 22, 2007 10:22am ET

Hi Phil,

That was my column, actually. You can read it here:


...Definitely a good call to have them open a fresh bottle for you. Often makes a huge difference, though I usually just suck it up and drink beer if it looks like it's gonna be a lost cause. And then have a martini to help me forget that the wine is so bad in yet another bar. Then another beer to balance me out. And then a shot of Jager since I'm in the mood. And then a margarita to get my Vitamin C.

Maybe I really just shouldn't go to bars anymore!
Phil Daniels
Philadelphia, PA —  January 22, 2007 7:51pm ET
Thanks for the correct attribution. I enjoyed the article.
M Brown
February 2, 2007 1:53pm ET
We have one afternoon that we will be just south of Florence. Any vineyard suggestions would be appreciated.M. Brown

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