It wasn't so long ago that a restaurant featured a house red and a house white as its only by-the-glass wine offerings. These were, by and large, the standard default order of diners who didn't know, or care, what they drank. But as restaurants and diners grew more sophisticated, the by-the-glass options expanded both in quality and in number. Still, the idea of an always-reliable house wine hasn't disappeared altogether, as some restaurants' by-the-glass selections have proven so popular that they're offered as regularly as any house red or white. Priced right and suited to a wide range of palates and dishes, they are like the old house wines--only better. The following are some of the choices offered by 10 top American restaurants.
MAISON ROBERT, BOSTON
By-the-glass choices White: Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages ($4.50 a glass; $11 a bottle retail). Red: Chapoutier Belle Ruche Côtes-du-Rhône ($5 a glass; $12 a bottle retail).
House policy These wines represent chef Jacky Robert's palate, says Ann Robert, his aunt and a co-owner of the restaurant. "He likes a clean, dry white wine like the Mâcon as an aperitif and as an accompaniment to fish. The Chapoutier has good fruit and a little more body and substance than typical Côtes-du-Rhônes."
Critical commentary These wines aren't hard to find at most wine shops, and they're very well priced, dependable choices.
THE FOUR SEASONS, NEW YORK CITY
By-the-glass choices White: Louis Latour Chardonnay Grand Ardèche ($12 a glass; $12 a bottle retail). Red:Château Loudenne ($12 a glass; $14 a bottle retail).
House policy Julian Niccolini, managing partner, says, "A restaurant's by-the-glass wines should reflect the quality of the restaurant. The Grand Ardèche, for example, has bested Puligny Montrachets in blind tastings." But why such high prices? Niccolini explains: "We use big glasses here. In fact, we only get three and a half glasses from a bottle [instead of the typical five]."
Critical commentary The white is a Rhône Valley blend from the famed shipper Latour, and the Loudenne is a solid, if not particularly exciting, petit château Bordeaux.