At $625 a glass, the Fat Duck's 175ml offering of premium Grange may seem steep, but it's part of a growing trend giving diners access to wines many find unaffordable by the bottle.
In this case, $3500 worth.
There are several factors contributing to this gradual trend. One is the growing investment in wine preservation technologies such as Enomatic, Coravins and Winesaver, which make offering fine wines "on pour" a safer financial bet. For example, more than 100 restaurants and bars in Australia have invested in an Enomatic wine preservation system, which start from the cool price of $9000 and range up to $200,000 for a full system. This has allowed sommeliers to keep and serve wine, once opened, for days.
While Gerald's Bar in Melbourne has long been known for serving fine wines by the glass, many other bars and restaurants are now following suit.
Late last year the Melbourne Pub Group's Circa in St Kilda began offering diners any of its wines (up to a value of $750 per bottle) by the glass on Tuesday nights after the venue purchased an Enomatic. MPG's head sommelier Laurent Rospars says the experiment has been a success, with many more people trying wines in the $200-$500 per bottle price bracket.
Before opening up Circa's wine list, the most expensive by-the-glass option was generally $30-$40. Now it is not unusual for diners to fork out $120 for a glass of French burgundy, Rospars says.
"While lots of younger people will spend $140-$250 on a bottle of pinot we wanted to give more people the opportunity to try a glass and pay a quarter of the price," he says. Rospars says the by-the-glass option is also proving popular with "industry types who may have heard about a wine and just want to try".
Making premium wine accessible
Sommeliers say the gradual switch to offering some top drops by the glass is about a desire to educate punters about wine.
If you didn't nab a table or your pockets aren't deep enough for The Fat Duck's degustation plus wine (the 1971 Penfolds is included in the $1150 per-person "tasting wines" menu) there are other places to try Penfolds' vintages and other premium wines by the glass.
Where to try "by the glass"
In Sydney, Black by ezard offers 2009 Penfolds' Bin '95 Grange shiraz for $120 per glass, or a 1995 Chateau semillon for $110 for 90mls.
And next month, pending a liquor licence, Vic's Meats at the Sydney Fish Market plans to offer at least five vintages of Penfolds' Grange by the glass - paired with a wagyu dish - with prices starting from about $100-$120.
Many restaurants are also offering wines from another famous Australian label, Henschke, by the glass. A bumper crop of its single vineyard Hill of Grace allowed Henschke to partner with some restaurants in May last year to offer its 2009 vintage by the glass - but this year Hill of Grace by the glass - is a rarer find.
Merivale's Felix though offers Henschke's 2012 Mount Edelstone shiraz at $45 per glass, as well as a number of fine French wines. Melbourne's Vue de Monde has a 1997 Mount Edelstone available for $80 for 90ml (half glass).
Merivale Group sommelier Pip Anderson says Felix offers diners a premium by-the-glass wine selection where wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux are showcased along with a revolving iconic Australian shiraz.
"We find this gives our guests an opportunity and flexibility to have a quick bite and a glass of wine for under $30 or they can enjoy their main meal with an iconic [wine] that they may not normally order a bottle of.
"With the iconic brands such as Henschke, we have guests who come in specifically to have a glass to try, as they have purchased this cuvee and are cellaring it themselves, and they wish to see what they are in for."
If it's French champagne you're after, No. 8 by John Lawson at Melbourne's Crown serves Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 for $35. Attica is currently pouring 120mls of NV Larmandier Bernier Rose de Saignee Champagne for $38 (bottle $210). And Vue de Monde is serving 2006 Louis Roederer Cristal Reims Champagne for $70 for 100ml.
Vue de Monde head sommelier Matthew Lamb says investing in a Coravins wine preserver a year ago has allowed the restaurant to add to the range of premium wines offered to diners.
Peter McAtamney from Wine Business Solutions says while the percentage of restaurant wine lists offering wine-by-the-glass is growing, he hopes more restaurants will follow suit in order to open the country's premium wines up to a broader market.
"Very few high-end restaurants are offering wine by the glass, which is a missed opportunity ... It's a way to get people who are enthusiastic about wine in."
This article first appeared on www.goodfood.com.au