Wine is one of the most perishable products out there, and thus one that needs a lot of loving care.
These days there are several options for bars and nightclubs to keep their vino fresh and no excuses for giving a customer a wine that’s past its prime. Here are some systems, tips and tricks to making sure that you are serving the freshest wine possible.
Argon Gas System
Rockit Ranch Productions in Chicago, which owns six venues (five restaurants with bars and one nightclub) and uses an argon gas system at Sunda, an Asian eatery, to preserve its best wines. This uses the weight of the gas in addition to a stopper to preserve the beverage.
“At venues where we offer more wines by the glass with a higher price point, we try to make sure the preservation of those wines is at a high level,” says Arturo Gomez, Rockit’s president. “This is because not only is the taste profile diminishing but you’re also losing product and profitability.”
You can keep wines preserved this way for up to five days but Gomez prefers not to serve them after two or three. “I just don’t think an open bottle after three to five days is going to be at its top quality,” he says.
Turquoise Cellars, a wine bar in San Diego, Calif., tried an argon gas system but quickly disbanded it.
“It’s a great idea in theory but we found most bottles break quickly or the attachments [to the system] would malfunction or go missing,” says sommelier Rafael Peterson.
Turquoise Cellars switched to a vacuum pump for its wine, which is easy to use and effective. “Physically it can also be a bit of a workout if you do 12 or 14 bottles in a row,” Peterson points out.
As well as vacuuming the bottles, Peterson also refrigerates them to slow down any degradation in the wines. But he still makes sure to use them up within three or four days.
Rockit Ranch venues also use a vacuum pump. “If there’s less likelihood of waste and we have a lot of movement on a wine, we’ll use the hand pump,” says Gomez. “But also where the selection is not as expansive, thus increasing the movement of what we have, the hand pump is fine in that situation too.”
If you’re vacuuming wine, it’s important to always date the bottle, says Len Panaggio, a wine consultant in Newport Beach, Rhode Island, so you know how long it’s been open. “Also remember to taste the wines the next day before you serve them,” he advises.
Wine from a keg “is the wave of the future,” says Gomez. “I think you’ll see a lot of venues moving in that direction in the next five years—at least for glass pours.”
The pricing on these wines is typically better and the quality is high, he says. “I've found the wines that are kegged are also more consistent in taste."
Gomez serves kegged wine at two restaurants, Bottlefork and Ay Chiwowa, and is looking to introduce it to his other four venues. Every single glass tastes the same, he says, and the wine stays fresh for up to 60 days. Plus, the kegs are temperature controlled so it’s perfect all the time.
Another bonus is kegged wine is cheaper and better for the environment since there’s less glass and labeling used, he adds.
Using kegged wine has allowed Rockit Ranch Productions to start offering carafes and half carafes of wine, which customers appreciate, Gomez says, because it gives them more flexibility in what they drink as well as the ability to mix and match.
And gone are the negative connotations of wines on tap. “Whatever stigmatism there was about wine on draft, it’s all in the past,” Gomez says. “There are some high quality suppliers putting wine in kegs. “
The Rockit Ranch locations do change up what they offer. Bottlefork recently introduced a rosé that will stay on the menu for the spring and summer, but in the winter its four taps feature three red wines and one white. By the middle of summer, it may lean more towards two white wines, one rosé and one red.
Bertil Jean-Chronberg, owner of the Beat Hotel, a brasserie with two bars in Cambridge, Mass., chose to serve tap wine so he could offer a variety of high quality wine by the glass or carafe. He also wanted to preserve and serve wine at the right temperature and to keep it fresh, he adds.
“I choose to use kegs to give people the same freedom they have on a [food] menu and not be imposed to have the same wine as everyone else at the table,” he says.
Panaggio sees kegged wine as the future for glass pours but expects it to make serious inroads in mid- to upscale bars and restaurants first, before the costs of the systems come down. Keg systems also take up a lot of space, he points out, and many bars simply don’t have the room for them.
Ninety five percent of Beat Hotel’s wine is from kegs but it does offer reserve wines by the bottle—10 reds and 10 whites.
Jean-Chronberg keeps these in a cellar at 55ºF and at perfect humidity, as well as a smaller selection at the bar in small wine refrigerators kept at 55ºF for red wines and 42ºF for white.
He takes great care with these high-end wines, never moving them or cleaning them until they’re ordered so as not to disturb any sediment. This would be very unpleasant to drink, he says, and can take weeks or even months to resettle.
Rockit Ranch’s Underground nightclub avoids serving flat champagne by offering it by the glass from splits.
Rockit Bar & Grill and Sunda use full bottles because they go through it faster and they vacuum pump them at the end of a shift if there’s any left over. Champagne held like this will last a day or two, Gomez says.
Turquoise Cellars’ Peterson feels vacuum pumps remove the carbon from the champagne, so instead uses stainless steel stoppers with rubber that attach to the bottle to hold in as much of the carbonation as possible. This will keep the champagne sparkling for two or three days, he says. “It’s all about the quality of the bubbles.”
Photo Credit: Kevin Hartmann / Rockit Ranch Productions