The Problem with Wine by the Glass.

BTG (or wine By-The-Glass) can be a great way to sample a few different wines in a restaurant or wine bar without committing to the whole bottle. I would like to state, though, there are a number of pitfalls, namely;…

Bad-Wine-ListThe Selection Usually Sucks.

I’m mentioning this first, as I think it’s the biggest problem! A solid wine by-the-glass list is hard to come by, for a number of reasons:

  • I don’t know of a single corporately-branded restaurant that hasn’t sold their soul to at least one wine distributor / wine brand.
    This can happen to different extents, with the outcome being the BTG selection features only “the usual suspects” i.e. big wine brands.
  • Restaurants usually stay fairly generic with the wines available by the glass. With anything too eclectic, there’s a chance the wines won’t sell and will inevitably be wasted.

My Advice: It’s very rare that I order by-the-glass in restaurants, with my reasoning being (as the heading states): the selection usually sucks.
It’s often suggested that dining at small locally-owned restaurants will overcome the problem of wine lists that are essentially “owned” by a particular wine distributor. This couldn’t be further from the truth and if anything it’s just as likely that they are receiving “sweetened” wine deals from the big boy distributors.
Depending on the State you live in (for legal reasons), I would recommend just buying a whole bottle, pouring your two glasses, corking it and taking the rest home with you.


Ordering-Expensive-WineRestaurants Rape You on Mark-up

The old wine industry saying goes that: “the glass pays for the bottle” i.e. the price you’re paying for the glass is usually the wholesale price of the bottle.

Some people have a tendency to go ape-sh*t when they see that a restaurant is charging only a few $’s less than what they can buy a bottle of for from a grocery store.
If you’re one of these people, I would suggest you stay home and drink your grocery store wine. It’s usually the same people that are quite happy to pay $2 for a Coke that contains 10¢ of post-mix, while they wear their $80 khakis that cost $4 to make in Indonesia. Weird!

My Advice: I’ve started bringing my own wine to a lot more restaurants and quite happily pay the corkage fee. If that’s the route you want to take, a few things to bear in mind:
– If the bottle cost under $20 (retail), don’t even bother. Of course this is a free country and you’re more than able to take a bottle of $7 Australian Pinot Grigio to enjoy with your meal at a high-end steak house. Just know that everyone is judging you!
– Make sure you’re not bringing a bottle that isn’t already on the wine list. That would be referred to as a “dick move”.
– Offer the Sommelier/Server a glass. It’s just good etiquette.



Bad-wineOpen Wine Dies Quickly

I tend to find that New World wines will typically last longer than Old World wines. Of course, that’s a very general assessment and I’m not going to get into my rationale right here. I’ll save that for another article!

As stated previously, I love restaurants with a large BTG list!  It enables you to taste through a number of different wines without having to commit to the whole bottle; however, the larger the wine list, the greater the waste.

Restaurants that can afford them use a wine preservation system (in some form), but the vast majority do not. 2-3 days is usually the maximum time you’ll get out of an opened bottle before you’ll start seeing any detrition.

My Advice: Your own wine education helps i.e. you need to know what a “bad” wine smells like. With that being said, I’ve sent wine back in a restaurant before, only to be told: ‘”…it can’t be bad! We just opened it 10 minutes ago!” You can only imagine how much I like to receive a tableside wine education by a snotty-little 19 year old! :)

If you really just want to play it safe (and I know it sucks to have to do this) order something that isn’t too “off the beaten path” i.e. something that you can safely presume the restaurant is moving through a good of i.e. Napa Cabernet, Sonoma Chardonnay etc. The Agiorghitiko from Greece can wait for another time…


Bring-your-own-wine-glassStandard Pour Sizes Vary

From what I’ve seen, 6 ounces seems to be the standard size pour for wine, but a number of restaurants try to get away with less. Depending on the size the wine glass, it isn’t always easy to tell what you’re receiving.

My Advice: Tough one. Of course you could always ask upfront the size of the wine pour, but I personally wouldn’t. I think it’s tacky.
I suggest just ordering a glass and if you’re not happy with the pour just send it back (without first obviously drinking from it).


  • May 14, 2012


    My fav moment with wine by the glass was at an old time Napa restaurant (very old time). Ordered two glasses of sparkling to start. Both flutes came half full. I complained. Response: ‘the bartender filled them up. We don’t see it as a problem.”

    Yeah, but bubbles were the top half, kid! Needless to say, low tip evening…

  • May 14, 2012


    i hate when that happens. lol

  • May 14, 2012

    tom merle

    Great article.  Although I wouldn’t hesitate to bring a $7 wine if the corkage is $20.  Anything to keep the price under $30. It’s only wine for Christ’s sake.  More and more I’m ordering beer at five bucks.

  • May 14, 2012


    Try Copa DI Vino Wine by the Glass. No waste, perfect serving every time

  • May 15, 2012


    My wife doesn’t drink wine, so I usually have to buy by the glass (most restaurants around here don’t package opened wine bottles to take home).  My strategy: in restaurants with a good list, I’ll get what I want by the glass.  Only had to send one back in 20 years.  I tend to order white over red thinking that the white will be refrigerated, which should help it last longer.  I NEVER order wine by the glass at chain “casual” restaurants. Fortunately, our favorite Thai restaurant now sells a few decent wines in half bottles.

  • May 22, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    I know what you’re saying, though the two reasons that I generally bring wine to a restaurant are either it’s a special bottle that I’ve been saving, or the wine list sucks.

  • May 22, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    Cool product!

  • May 22, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    Cheers Jim. The “white over red” rule is a good way to go. Are you in Jax? What’s your favorite Thai restaurant?

  • May 22, 2012


     Not in Jax – live in Neenah WI (about 40 miles from Green Bay-Go Packers!).  We have a Thai restaurant here (Cy’s Bistro) that our friends from San Francisco say has the best Thai food they’ve ever had. 

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