The wine bar revolution
May 16, 2008
Wine and the industry around it has developed over the last 20 years turning it into something that is almost indistinguishable from what it once was. Everything from the way wine is sold to the way it is consumed has changed. The Internet has brought the auction market to almost everyone (unless you live in a control state), the import and distribution industry has become increasingly sophisticated, and the venues in which we enjoy wines has become far more wine focused. You can now walk into almost any major city and find a plethora wine bars themed toward any number of regions, styles, or topics.
This is, of course, not a new idea. Wine bars began to gain popularity in bigger cities about 15 years ago but, these days, their coverage has become far larger. So why this new trend? I think that it has a lot to do with the style of wine being produced today. The average alcohol percentage of most wines is considerably higher than it was 20 years ago. This phenomenon has changed the way we drink wine. It used to be that wines were primarily reserved for food. These wines usually have a higher acid content, lower alcohol, and a lighter body. Alternatively, many wines these days seem to be made to be sipped alone. One result of higher alcohol is the illusion of sweetness, which makes a wine considerably smoother tasting when consumed by itself. Another factor behind a wine’s ability to stand alone is the amount of body that it carries. Many wines today both white and red are pumped up with the use new oak barrels and often simply with oak chips. This makes a wine fuller and rounder and guises the taste of the acid and other elements.
All of these factors can be perceived in either a positive light (they are more accessible and easy to drink) or it can be perceived in a negative one, wines of character and nuance are increasingly hard to find. Either way, the result has been a host of fun places to go and a heightened awareness of wine in general. So what makes one wine bar better than another? I have a few criteria that I thought I would share with you.
First, is the ambience. If you are going to really pay attention to a wine one must do it in relative peace. This means soft light, rich colors, and comfortable seating. Second is the staff and their knowledge. It seems silly to spend a lot for a wine if no one can explain it to you. Thirdly, a unique concept usually makes the experience fuller. For example, if a wine bar is Australian-themed one’s ability to further understand the concept as a whole can be greatly enhanced. Finally there is the food. Most wine bars opt for a small plate menu that can easily be a meal too, but is more commonly a snack and should be designed to complement the style of the particular wines on the list.
Sadly, there aren’t many wine bars in Utah, yet. Hopefully we will see a rash of them pop up like have in other markets.
Zev Rovine is a Park City sommelier. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in New York City. If you have any wine queries or comments, he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .