Yes, wine kegs. Wine tanks, or wine that is stored and then poured out of keg-like containers, appear to be a small yet growing phenomena in local restaurants and wineries.
We went no farther than nearby Chef Geoff’s restaurant on New Mexico Ave. in Washington DC to taste wines poured out of a device that looks no different than a line up of beers streamed out of a keg. Wines on tap included chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir, and malbec. Of course, I had to sample at least one of these and tasted the chardonnay. I will admit that my note taking on the chardonnay was a bit sketchy——I was using the phone as opposed to my tried and true quill and parchment; however, I do think that this was a Chef Geoff’s private label chardonnay with the grapes sourced from Edna Valley in California. My impressions? I was pleasantly surprised. It was a fruit-forward wine with a lovely palate of pear, apple and subtle citrus notes to make for a fresh, crisp pour. Versatile too—-enjoy with white wine-friendly foods or on its own while chatting with friends at the bar. I also sampled the pinot noir on a second occasion; of course, I was wearing a disguise so that the bartender would not recognize me and then confuse me for a food/wine critic. Not really—-it was my Halloween costume. Anyway, the pinot noir was likewise fruity and enjoyable; I sipped it with a side of potato fries but would have appreciated it by itself while glancing at the tennis match being shown on the TV above the bar.
So some technical details that I gleaned from my conversation with the bartender and some brief online research. The wine tanks are chilled with white wines kept at 46 degrees (F) and red wines at 56 degrees (F). Furthermore, wine tanks can store up to 26 cases of wine. However, might wine snobs balk at such a concept? According to Geoff Tracy, owner and chef at Chef Geoff’s, consumers have responded in a positive manner to wines poured from the tanks. And for those who want wine by the glass at a restaurant, the wine keg might be the way to go. Tracy’s reasoning for taking this direction made perfect sense to me. Opening bottled wines to pour by the glass require maintenance that includes storing at the right temperature and then dumping wines that have gone over the hill after being opened for a while. Another hazard includes the expensive risk of opening wines that may be corked or tainted in some other way. Steel tanks allows for the restauranteur to maintain wines at their proper temperatures and eliminate such hazards as unpleasant oxidation. This can occur if wines are kept open for too long. For the consumer who wants to enjoy wine by the glass, these wines are well crafted,fresh,and always ready to enjoy.
At least two local wineries are likewise tapping into this concept. Winemaker Kirsty Harmon offers growlers of wine to consumers who visit Blenheim Vineyards. A white and red blend are both offered from a tap; customers simply buy the bottle and have it filled from the tap. When the bottle is empty, he/she can return to the winery with the bottle to have it refilled. My impressions? Much like my experience at Chef Geoff’s. Both of the growler blends were fresh and versatile. I particularly enjoyed the white with its floral notes and fruity palate; a nice mouth feel made for a deck sipper or a food-friendly wine. Why offer growlers at a winery? In my conversation with Kirsty, she seemed to second Geoff Tracy’s opinions about maintenance but added another dimension. There is an earth-friendly component to the growler idea that means fewer bottles and enclosures being purchased and then thrown away. Michael Shaps is another winemaker who also serves a growler, and I sampled the rose on tap. It was quite nice, and I ended up enjoying a glass after my tasting at the winery this past summer.
Wines on tap? Don’t discount them. Taste for yourself before you turn your nose at them. Why not visit the establishments mentioned in this post? Of course, mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!