I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: The best way to learn about wine is to taste it. Lots of it.
You can read all you want about wine and confer with wine stewards at your bottle shop, but nothing takes the place of actually swirling, sniffing and tasting the stuff. And lots of different varieties.
That may explain why wine bars and by-the-glass wine lists have become so popular in the past few years. Not long ago, when you were handed a wine list, it included a list of full bottles. For two wine drinkers, that’s great for dinner: two glasses each. But sometimes the Mrs. may want something else, and I’m stuck with half a bottle.
Plus, it’s fun to sample around. I like being able to have a lighter-style white or red with a starter course, then move to weightier wines come the entree.
With a by-the-glass list, you can choose wines specific to your cuisine without committing yourself to a full bottle. Say you’re at your favorite Italian restaurant and like chianti but have fallen into a rut. You’ve heard great things about wines from Piedmont, but the prices are intimidating. You know what to do. Go for a glass. Mix it up. Heck, try something from two or three of Italy’s great winegrowing regions. Broaden your horizons.
That’s what it’s all about with by-the-glass wine lists — trying new things. Some places even have smaller tasting “flights” that are smaller increments of a single variety or region. For example, BevMo in Chandler offers red zinfandel flights in 2-ounce pours from three different producers. It gives you a chance to uncover the differences between the three in one sitting. It’s interesting what you find out about your palate and preferences sampling them side by side.
All of this said, I do have a few places where I like to order from the by-the-glass list. Some occasions call for a full bottle; other times, I enjoy sampling around.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, Chandler and Scottsdale locations. Regardless of what people say about some of the trendy wine bars out there with great lists — and there are many good ones — few rival Fleming’s on a consistent basis. They always have 100 wines by the glass, with about half of them rotating seasonally.
Where else in town can you sip Perrier-Jouet Grand Champagne by the glass? I love it. But again, it’s about experimentation, and you can sample different wines by ordering a trio of 2-ounce pours. The next time I’m in, I’m pitting Australian, German and domestic riesling against one another and pairing it with their dreamy crab cakes or scallops. Either way, I win. 6333 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, (480) 596-8265. 20753 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, (480) 538-8000. 905 N. 54th St., Chandler, (480) 940-1900.
House of Tricks, Tempe. Another great date night option. Imagine sitting under a giant shade tree sipping your own “Sideways”-inspired flight of Central California syrah, zinfandel and, of course, pinot noir. You can by securing a few seats on the brick-lined patio and scanning their outstanding by-theglass list. I’ve always appreciated how thoughtful Tricks’ wine list seems; they always nail down just the right wines for the season and what they’re cooking. They recently cemented this legacy by bringing me a glass of Hedge’s “Three Vineyards” from Washington state when I asked for a glass to go with a steak. The four-variety red blend (cab, cab franc, merlot and syrah) just blew my mind and cost just $8.50 a glass. Did I need to spend $34 for a full bottle? No. But it was a great introduction to a great wine. 114 E. Seventh St., (480) 968-1114. 56 East, Chandler.
Thank goodness the daily happy hour is back. Here’s your chance to sample $5 glasses of wine that don’t come in a jug. Sip solid drams like Rex Hill pinot gris, La Crema pinot noir, Swanson merlot and Justin blends. The by-the-glass list is Central California heavy, but that’s OK. We were all changed — for the better — by “Sideways.”
Besides, there are other winners, like two Italian and one Spanish sparklers, four sauv blancs (domestic and New Zealand) and a couple of burly California zins. Yes! The expansive patio turns this wine-sipping happy hour into a party. 7131 W. Ray Road, (480) 705-5602.