Wine on Tap, Substance or Style?

Consumers beware of clever packaging. It's the quality of the wine that should be more important than the presentation.


I hate gimmicks more than getting up early in the morning in the middle of vacation to do taxes. I hate gimmicks as much as I like the friendly competition at Iron Vintners, the annual Iron Chef-style cooking competition pitting local winemakers at .

On that note, congratulations to Morgan Lee of and Two Vintners Winery on winning this year’s competition. Congratulations also go to , the Woodinville-based therapeutic horse riding non-profit for children and adults, the beneficiaries of the three-week cooking tournament.

Back to gimmicks. A popular gimmick in wine today is wine on tap.

I haven’t seen any results that show that serving wine on tap improves the quality of the fermented grape juice. In fact, in many cases, much of the wine that is sold in kegs is juice left over that was not deemed suitable to bottle and seal under cork or another closure.

Wine taps can be convenient to bars and restaurants serving wines out of the vessel made popular by beer. There’s no inherent benefit to the consumer, unless bars and restaurants pass the savings on to their guests. I have yet to see evidence of that as well.

Take Charles & Charles Red Wine, a wine made in collaboration between Charles Smith and Charles Bieler. The wine is a simple, fruit-forward, straightforward and easy drinking sipper ideal for a happy hour menu. Sold by the glass bottle it retails for around $10. Served on tap at Seatown, Tom Douglas’ casual restaurant by the Pike Place Market, it sells for $10 for a quarter liter and $20 for half a littler. That amounts to $30 for three quarters of a liter, the equivalent of a regular bottle.

At best, that would be about the same mark-up if it were sold by the bottle at the restaurant. Considering the presumed cost saving for convenience to the restaurant, the margins are slightly larger for the business, meaning the consumer is screwed.

Small Lot Co-Op, founded in Woodinville and now based in Shoreline, hawks wines on tap by Walla Walla-based Proletariat Wine Company. in Woodinville sells wine in tote bags and kegs. Ron Bunnell, , also sells wine by the keg.

Proletariat wines are served at , , and in Bellevue, Spazzo in Redmond, Sparta’s in Bothell, , , the and the in Kirkland, Bennett’s on Mercer Island, and WildFin American Grill and Pogacha in Issaquah. Black Bottle Postern, WildFin and Le Grand Bistro Americain also sell Piccolo wines. They are also available at JJ Mahoney and Malt & Vine in Redmond.  

Proletariat claims on their website that, “Basically, we're passing on the cost savings gained by providing larger quantities and by not having to bottle, store, package or promote our wines.” I’ll take them at their word. Like Charles & Charles, Proletariat wines are generally one dimensional, bascially fruit-forward.

Proletariat Wine Co. is on a local tour of restaurants, dubbed “Kill the Keg,” promoting their wines. Glass pours are sold for $3 to $5 at featured restaurants. Those prices are only for a single day at a single restaurant at a time. For updates and upcoming stops on their tour check Proletariat's Facebook page

At Bennett’s on Mercer Island, Proletariat Viognier-Roussane sells for $12 a glass. Their Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $14 a glass. Both wines are within a reasonable price range relative to quality but I hardly consider it a bargain. If you order their wines, look past the novelty of wine on tap and evaluate it on its merits.

The wine could be stored in the University of Washington’s 1991 football national championship crystal trophy and poured by Brigitte Bardot for all I care. And I do I love UW football and Bardot. In the end, it’s the quality of the wine that matters.

Chris June 26, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Well done. I have had a problem with wine on tap since I first heard of it. While there are some decent wines going in, the value just isn't there like it is with beer. Also the profitability for the restaurant is nowhere close to that of beer (I say that as a Wine Buyer for restaurants). For the winemaker it is just plain stupid. Your wine is now subjected to the cleaning regiment of a restaurant's staff. mmm Yum, I'd love that first glass poured that's been sitting in pvc pipe all night long. At least the first beer is so foamy the bartender has to throw it out. Give me a good wine in 'bag in box' first please.
Frank Huber June 28, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Hi Chris, The biggest benefit of offering wine on tap which you clearly missed is that once a keg of wine is tapped the wine will stay fresh for 6 months. This means that the restaurant has no waste in product and that they can offer a higher quality of wine by the glass pour. The customer benefits as well since they will always be poured a fresh glass of wine. Another important fact that you missed is that offering wine in kegs is that there is no waste (Bottles, corks, empty case boxes) so this is a very environmentally friendly product. There many fantastic wine makers putting their wine in kegs and for you to say “much of the wine that is sold in kegs is juice left over that was not deemed suitable to bottle and seal under cork or another closure” it just goes to show how little you understand this concept. I would be happy to have a conversation with you talk about the benefits and the cost savings of wine on tap. I also attached some articles talking about the benefits of wine on tap for you and your readers. http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/45801 http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=102413 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/dining/08pour.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1 Thank you, Frank Huber Piccola Cellars
Greg Johnston June 28, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Very good points Frank, thanks for sharing.


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