By: Nan McCreary
First, we had wine in a box, then in a can, and now, we have yet another option for enjoying our favorite tipple: Wine on tap. For many, these options conjure up images of plonk juice that violate the sacrosanct open-it-with-a-corkscrew-and-listen-to-the-cork pop method. But tradition aside, more and more boutique and premium wines are showing up in alternative packaging, especially in wine on tap.
Wine on tap, once known for delivering low quality wines at the cheapest price, began to catch on in the late 2000s when technical and logistical issues associated with earlier systems were resolved. With these improvements, more and more operators are adding wine on tap to their beverage programs.
Here’s how wine on tap works. Wine goes from the vintner to the distributer, where it is filled into stainless steel tanks. At the wine bar or restaurant, the keg is connected by plastic tubing to special tap dispensers. Wine is pushed through the system by inert gasses such as nitrogen or argon, which also protect the wine from oxidation and preserve its freshness. Typically, wine on tap is stored in 20-liter kegs, which hold 26 bottles, or approximately 132 five-ounce pours. In this system, the wine will stay fresh for months, with the last pour as fresh and bright as the first.
For the wine bar or restaurant, the advantages include:
• No waste: No half-empty bottles to throw away
• Wine is always served at the correct temperature: Special temperature controlled lines carry wine from kegs to taps.
• Speed: No corks to pull, bottles to stock or recycle.
• Eco-friendly: Reduces the cost of traditional bottle packaging (bottles, corks, capsules, labels and cases) and transportation. Steel kegs are 100 percent reusable: One keg reduces the carbon footprint of the same wine bottle by 96% over its lifetime. Each keg put into service removes the same amount of carbon as taking a car off the road for 2.5 years.
• Cost: Bars and restaurants can save by spending less on the expenses of bottling and packaging.
For the customers, the advantages include:
• Better wine at lower cost: Bars and restaurants can pass their savings along to the customer.
• Wines are always fresh and bright: Proponents say the best tap wines are those intended for early consumption within one or two years.
• Opportunity to try many different wines: No need to purchase an entire bottle to “experiment” with a new wine.
As wine on tap grows in popularity, more and more Houston establishments are adding keg wine to their menus. And, with this hot new trend, the sky seems to be the limit. Sixty Vines in Rice Village, for example, offers 53 wines on tap that can be purchased as a 2.5 oz, 5 oz or 8 oz pour or as a 750ml carafe. Messina Hof, which recently opened a new venue in Harvest Green near Richmond, offers 12 different wines from 24 taps. Messina Hof also offers growlers to go for people who want to pick up lunch or dinner on the run. Root Wine Bar in East Downtown has taken the concept even farther: The establishment offers a “Try Before You Buy” experience using fully automated wine dispensing machine. Customers have the option to try 56 different wines in 1 oz, 3 oz or 5 oz pours.
Clearly, wine on tap is a win-win for both bars/restaurants and patrons. It’s a good bet that your local watering hole has keg wine available. A Google search will reveal some options. If you’re really feeling eager to jump on the wine-on-tap bandwagon, you can opt for a home “kegerator/winerator.” Like the commercial kegs, these hold approximately 26 bottles of wine and dispense enough juice to keep even the most party-hardy wine drinker happy!