grape juice

join, or just sample wines by the glass

to date or not to date?

I was out with someone the other night and he was confused by the very large wine menu. He was trying to decide between two wines so I told him to ask the bartender for samples of both. “You can’t do that!” he said. I asked the bartender and got the samples.

My friend was amazed, but I ask for samples about 50% of the time. It’s a great way to not only see if you like the actual wine by the glass they’re offering, since you probably never had that particular one before, but also lets you try a potentially new wine that sounds like you might like it without having to commit $8-12 (or possibly more) to it. Think of it like online dating, where you get to see someone’s picture and stats before having to go out on a date with them. Then if you do wind up going on the date (or ordering the glass), you can then decide if later on you’d want to marry them (or buy a whole bottle).

So I was feeling pretty good about sharing this with my friend, and then I read this rant by a wine bar manager who hates when people ask for samples. It’s a pretty funny post, and also taught me that BTG is short for by the glass. Anyway, he does make a few interesting points.

First, he disses bartenders for being lazy enough to just pour someone a sample instead of talking to them and suggesting a wine that sounds like it would suit their palate. AGREE.

Second, it’s costly to pour free samples. Seems like it depends on how much you’re pouring and how expensive the wine is. At lower price levels, what they’re charging BTG is usually almost the cost of the bottle. Come on, one ounce of sampling isn’t going to affect the bar’s overall profits. So DISAGREE, unless it’s a really expensive wine – which then usually isn’t served BTG.

Third, a sample isn’t enough for someone to determine if they like the wine or not. Huh? DISAGREE.

Fourth, people don’t really need a sample of a $7 BTG Chardonnay. Yeah, if you’re drinking cheap Chard, you’re prob not overthinking your wine and should just happily drink away. Plus, he says people ask for samples of expensive wine and then wind up ordering $5 Pinot Grigio. I think we all know by now how I’d feel about that!!! AGREE AGREE AGREE

The guy ends with: “I’m sorry if Joe’s Crab Shack will let you sample through their entire list of Gallo wines. I’m not Joe. I’m just trying to make a difference one glass of wine at a time. So please sit back, relax, take suggestions, and put something new in your glass every once in a while.”

Hilarious, but I do think he’s missing some of the point: sampling LETS ME put something new in my glass every once in a while. In addition, the bartenders are usually psyched to pour a wine they really like without feeling like they made me pay money for a full glass only for me to not like it. It’s like someone setting you up – it’s much more lowkey when they just invite the person along to dinner rather than you having to commit a whole night to a solo date.

In my experience, 95% of the time bartenders are more than happy to give a small sample especially if we’re having a conversation about the wines and they know I’m not just bucking for free wine. So I’d say definitely ask for samples if you’re interested and/or confused, but try sticking to these basic courtesy rules:

  1. You can’t just plop down at the bar and start asking for samples. Read through the menu, ask the bartender questions and tell them what you normally like.
  2. Be willing to try a new wine. Even if what they suggest sounds weird or not your usual style, the bartender knows which of their wines BTG are great and I usually wind up liking it or loving it, and always happy I ventured into new territory.
  3. Thank the bartender and/or tip well. Yes, this is partially their job but they probably spent a bit more time with you, gave you free samples and potentially introduced you to a new favorite wine.

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