Monday, February 7, 2011

Liquid: Saving grapes

When it comes to wine, a lot of us are commitment-phobic. Sure, we'll take a chance on a bigger-ticket bottle on a special occasion, but what about a typical Thursday? If trying that intriguing varietal means splurging on a $100 bottle, we'll probably settle for a fling with something from the by-the-glass list, where the options are often limited and sometimes humdrum. That's because the risk of opening a special bottle only to sell one or two glasses and have the rest go to waste just doesn't make sense for most bars (as much as the thirsty servers having a drink after their shifts might wish it did). 

Posto (187 Elm Street, Somerville, 617.625.0600), the newish wine bar and brick-oven-pie spot in Davis Square, is aiming to correct this fatal flaw in the wine-serving process with a preservation system that makes the aspirational dreams of the cost-conscious oenophile a reality. It's a great concept in theory, and one that I'd like to see more bars incorporating in terms of pricey spirits as well. Bartenders talk about wanting their customers to try new things all the time - why not make it a little easier for us to do just that? 

That's the idea behind "Enzo," Posto's nickname for its Enomatic Enoline Elite system, says chef-owner Joe Cassinelli. "What it does is it allows us to open bottles you'd only be able to buy by the bottle in a restaurant. One of our upcoming promos is to do wine by Gaja [the acclaimed wine producer from Italy's Piedmont region] and sell it by the ounce. Everyone knows Gaja, but no one buys it unless they have an expense account." 

On a recent visit, I tried a 2009 "The Prisoner," a Napa Valley blend of cabernet, syrah, and zinfandel. A huge burst of dark fruit that stood up well to some of the richer menu items here, it would normally sell for $80 a bottle. A five-ounce pour set me back $18. Still not cheap, but arguably worth it. Then there's the 2007 Australian Penfolds "Bin 128" shiraz, which, at $58 a bottle, sells at $14 a glass. On the high end, the 2005 Acinatico Amarone della Valpolicella was $33 for a glass, $135 for the bottle. Half bottles are also available. Such wines are opened in a temperature-controlled machine that utilizes gas to refill the bottle once wine is extracted, essentially resealing it. Posto uses a noble gas called argon, which is a heavier gas that sits on top of the wine. 

Over at Bin 26 Enoteca (26 Charles Street, Boston, 617.723.5939), nitrogen is used for the same effect. With its NitroTap system, which has been in place since the restaurant opened in 2006, Bin 26 offers glass pours of bottles of wine that, on the high end, can normally run from a few hundred dollars to the $1,000-a-bottle range. "No retailer wants to open a $1500 bottle of wine, pour a glass of it, and then what do with the rest of it?" says owner Babak Bina. The system makes it easy for guests to try something new: there are more than 60 wines available in servings of 100 ml, 250 ml, 500 ml, and 750 ml (full bottle), some of them fairly esoteric. The NitroTap allows the restaurant to preserve bottles like a 2007 Domaine Giraud "Tradition" Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($20, $45, $80, $110) or a 2008 Domaine du Vissoux "Cuvée Traditionnelle V.V." Beaujolais ($9, $18, $34, $45) for three months at a time. 

Still a little out of your price range? How does free suit you? TJ Douglas, owner of The Urban Grape (7 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill, 617.232.4831), offers samples of a wide selection of wines using his shop's Enomatic Enoline Elite. As at Posto, argon is pumped into the bottle, effectively pushing out all of the oxygen. In theory, the wines should last about 45 days, but Douglas has never held one over for that long. "I use it as a training tool," he says. "A way to test drive a style of wine before you throw your hard-earned money into it." 

As Douglas puts it, "It's a good way to experience wines outside of your comfort zone, to offer a little variety to the wine world." 

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