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Bartender! A Glass of Wine That Doesn't Suck, Please

Sure, bars can manage great cocktails and beer lists. But where's the love when it comes to wine?

Eric Arnold
Posted: October 20, 2006

I'm a barfly. I have my regular watering hole near my apartment in Brooklyn and, in fact, one of my earliest memories is on a barstool.

When I was about five or six, my family went on a cruise, and whenever I'd gone missing, no one had to worry that I'd fallen overboard. I was in the bar. OK, I was just drinking lemonade, but I remember liking the atmosphere and chatting with the bartender, who probably wondered what he'd done wrong in a former life to be stuck talking to an ankle-biter on a sugar high in this one. The lemonade was good, so I kept going back.

Which is why I get so annoyed now, as an adult, that the wine in bars always tastes so bad. Awful, actually. Sure, there are wine bars, but I don't live near one. I go to the same bar all the time since I see the same faces there all the time, and I don't think being able to sip good-tasting wine with my friends is too much to ask. Especially since most bars nowadays tend to offer 25 or more microbrew beers and a dozen special cocktails.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the recent resurgence in mixology. In New York alone, there are a dozen or so bars leading this creative charge, and probably hundreds more following in their footsteps, mixing and matching classic and exotic cocktail ingredients. And half the fun is watching the bartenders prepare the drinks, I'll admit. But there are nights when I just want a decent glass of wine. My friends get a bartending performance and a great drink, while for the same amount of money I get to choose between regular and unleaded.

What's doubly frustrating is that fancy cocktails take the bartender a long time to make, whereas pouring a good glass of wine takes no time at all. What I can't understand is if bars are willing to take so much time experimenting with so many concoctions that please the senses (and could, quite possibly, bring the dead back to life), why can't they put a little effort into finding some good-tasting wines? Instead, they settle for whatever the wholesaler throws at them for six or seven bucks a bottle. Sure enough, at my bar, the cheap white Bordeaux tastes about the same as the cheap Sauvignon Blanc from California. And the Chilean Merlot tastes the same as the one from California.

Off the top of my head, I can think of plenty of substitute wines that taste 10 times better and cost about the same (or less). A Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc instead of the Bordeaux, for example. A reliable Aussie Shiraz instead of the bland Côtes du Rhône that's probably distilled and sold as industrial ethanol over in France due to oversupply. An Argentinean Chardonnay instead of the really cheap one from California that actually is industrial ethanol.

Sure, you could argue that the bar won't bother to offer good wine if people don't order wine in the first place. But in my local bar, I'd say at least half the customers are drinking wine on any given weeknight. At the end of a long day, though, I think they'd rather just drink whatever's available rather than complain about it. The bar probably figures it ain't broke, so ... .

But it does need fixing. And I can only hope that my local bar will do something about it sooner or later. Because I really don't want to go back to drinking lemonade.

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