Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wine On Demand

By Julianna Hayes

While shopping for new appliances for our kitchen renovation, I was seduced by the new built-in coffeemakers on the market. They are sleek and stylish, designed to blend into your cabinetry without taking up valuable real estate on your countertop. They can be plumbed in with water and hold a generous amount of beans or pods, promising a fresh, hot cup of coffee, espresso or cappuccino in seconds at the press of a button.

Coffee preparation has always been a bit of a bone of contention in our household, often culminating in a lively game of “paper, rocks, scissors” to determine who will be forced out of the warm bed to make the morning’s life-giving pot. Granted, the machine we currently have came equipped with a timer, so just 45 seconds of prep in the p.m., and we’d be blissfully roused by the delicious aroma of coffee percolating in the a.m. Whether we are shamefully lazy or simply forgetful, we rarely do it and thus the ritual morning stand-off.

The built-in coffee system seemed the perfect way to resolve the impasse, dispensing coffee on demand, without the fuss. But at $2,500-plus for even the most basic unit, we decided to stick to our current system and suck it up. At the time I thought a system that dispenses wine might be worth the investment.

Careful what you wish for. A couple months later, I stopped into The Rotten Grape wine bar in Kelowna and was immediately drawn to a new machine that does just that. It’s a sort of fancy wine-on-tap system called the Enomatic, from which servings of wine from eight bottles are available at the push of a button.

I have seen wine-dispensing systems in the past, but this one – the gadgety name aside – is ingenious. It prevents spoilage by oxidation of open bottles by automatically filling the airspace above the liquid with an inert gas, such as argon or nitrogen. The company claims wines can be kept as fresh as the day they were opened for up to three weeks. The volume amounts of each serving can be pre-set – The Rotten Grape offers them in one-, two- and five-ounce measures – and the spouts are automatically cleaned after each pour. There are also climate-control and serving temperature options.

What’s more, the system can run on a “smart card” which restaurant customers can pre-load with a certain dollar amount and then use at their leisure on a self-serve basis. For me, this is one of the Enomatic’s strongest selling features.

First of all, when we go out as a couple, or as a group, we typically order wine by the bottle because options are far superior. What this usually means is someone has to compromise. While by-the-glass selections are getting better in many higher-end restaurants, I don’t relish the idea of drinking a $10-$15 glass of wine from a bottle that was open a day or two before, sometimes earlier. Most wines have a very short shelf life and while the changes may be subtle, perhaps undetectable, in many instances, you can bet that wine will not be nearly as good on Thursday as it was when it was opened on Tuesday.

The Enomatic also gives restaurants the option of serving samples of wines that would be out of reach for most consumers price-wise if available only by the bottle. For example, The Rotten Grape charges $2 to $7 an ounce for its Enomatic selections, depending on the wine. While that might seem like a lot, its an affordable way to try wines like the St. Francis Winery 1998 Nun’s Canyon Merlot from Sonoma, which is a $100-plus per bottle,

The system also enables consumers to better select wine pairings for each dish, rather than having to drink the same wine throughout the meal, regardless of whether you have seafood as an appetizer and game meat as the main course.

I like the self-serve option of the Enomatic – it’s sleek and state-of-the-art and everyone gets a kick out of pushing buttons and observing cool devices spin and whir as they work. But what I think is best about the system is the kind of automated self-control it gives consumers. By pre-loading your smart card upon arrival, you can set your dollar limit to better suit your budget, eliminating that “sticker shock” when the tab arrives at the end of the night. And perhaps because it was such a unique experience, I observed those customers taking advantage of the system really savouring what was in their glass, rather than gulping it down like it was the first bit of liquid to cross their palates in months.

The Rotten Grape was the first B.C. establishment to install the system – there are about 100 in place across the country. But at $16,000 for the eight-bottle unit (there are models much larger than that), it may take a while for the concept to catch on. Partner Rita Myers admitted it was a substantial investment, but the way it has caught on with customers, she expects it to pay for itself within the year. The system is advantageous in many ways. Restaurateurs can rotate higher-end bottles much faster. There’s little risk of loss due to spoilage and waste due to spillage and pouring too much product, as the measurements are exact.

Enomatic is also trying to tap into the home market by enticing wine enthusiasts to consider a system for their private cellars. Collectors, in particular, wouldn’t need to struggle with opening up prized wines and having to drink them all in one sitting.

For me, it would solve the problem I face of having to open several bottles at once for the multiple tastings I do for my work.

Four-bottle “consumer-friendly” units, sans the smart card software, are available for about $4,000. And while that’s still a big chunk of change, it makes a lot more sense to me than the fancy, schmancy coffee system that was the apple of my eye a few months ago. For more information: http://www.enomatic.ca/

Wine Notes

Pentâge 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Black cherry, ruby hues with fat legsAromas: Sweet Bing cherry, plum, black tea, cedar and mocha
Flavours: Cherry, plum, coffee, dusty chocolate, earth, spice
Body and Finish: Luscious entry with good mid-palate weight, firm tannins and a dry, lingering finish
Overall Impression: An elegant Old-World style of wine with solid structure for aging. Good value
Cellaring Potential: Best left for a couple years, cellar up to eight
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 89
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Mission Hill 2006 S.L.C. Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon
Appearance: Straw tones with golden highlights
Aromas: Pineapple, orange peel, lime, lemon oil, grassy notes with floral, mineral hints
Flavours: Tropical fruit, spice, citrus peel, lemon-lime
Body and Finish: Ripe, rich entry with a weighty mid-palate and lean citrusy finish.
Overall Impression: A rich, but elegant wine with well-balanced intensity and acidity
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Once in a while
Score: 88
Price: $30
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers, BC LDBs

Lake Breeze 2007 Gewurztraminer
Appearance: Crystal clear with pale straw hues
Aromas: Peach, apricot, rosewater, mineral, citrus
Flavours: Bright tree fruit, spice, mineral, lemon-lime
Body and Finish: Sweet entry with nice fruit intensity, clean finish.
Overall Impression: A fruit-forward but well balanced wine ideal when nicely chilled
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 88
Price: $19
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Viognier also available at Golden Beaver Winery. Whose vineyard has had the Viognier Vines planted for over 16 years!