As the Broadway song advises "ya gotta have a gimmick" to get ahead in business today.
When it comes to wine, I hate gimmicks. Critter labels, decorative packaging, in fact anything not related to wine quality makes me cringe.
Ross' choiceCotes du Rhone
Rhone Valley, France
From the Tank, Les Vignerons d'Estezargues
Suggested retail and availability: $32 for a 3L box at wine shops or on tap at area restaurants (distributed by Eno a Mano, Melrose Park)
Wines on tap have yet to catch up to beer with snazzy tap handles; few tapped wines offer standard 750 ml bottles. From the Tank's handy 3-liter box may be hard to find, but it's harder to forget. For the previous month, I have pulled my evening quaff from the same box with delicious results: ripe blackberry flavors accented by brown and black spice, with the smoothness I want for a cocktail and tannin enough to pair with rich veggies, poultry and light meats.
The current wave of wine on tap is no gimmick.
Wine served from kegs, as is beer, is nothing new in Europe where locals save cash and materials by bellying up to the local winemaker's tank and filling their own bottles.
Wine on tap isn't even new to the U.S. In the 1970s, many West Coast producers invited customers to BYOB (empty, that is) and fill it at the winery.
While driving and other legalities curtailed self-serve options, West Coast wineries including Au Bon Climat and SilverTap began offering kegged wine to area restaurants in 2010.
At Washington State's Milbrandt Vineyards, Butch Milbrandt sees wine kegs winning favor at upscale restaurants and wine bars across the country.
"We filled 500 kegs with Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Pinot Gris in April; we've decided to add 500 kegs of Chardonnay."
The trend hasn't taken hold in suburbs yet, but tapped wine can be enjoyed from one end of Chicago to another in places like Volo Wine Bar (Roscoe Village), Cyrano's Farmhouse Kitchen (River North), The Trenchermen (Bucktown), Eno Wine Bar (in the Inter-Continental Hotel), Belly Q (Randolph Street), The Pub at the University of Chicago (Hyde Park), the soon-to-open Found Kitchen (Evanston) and Glunz Tavern (Old Town).
The Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark St., is Mecca for aficionados of hand-craft beer. The restaurant's recent expansion of a Belgian-themed menu, vaulted dining room and glistening, exposed kitchen, inspired expansion into wine on tap.
"Beer and wine belong next to each other," says Hopleaf beverage director Drew Larson, who should know; he is a degreed sommelier as well as a Certified Cicerone, the industry's top recognition of expertise in the sale and service of international beers.
"Wine on tap has no pomp or circumstance," says Larson. "Our customers think it's neat to enjoy wine like people do in Europe, with no pretension."
Wine on tap is a win-win-win. Wineries save about $1.50 per bottle and in shipping unbreakable kegs. Consumers enjoy vibrant wine flavor with no chance of oxidation or the so-called "corked" taint. Restaurant costs are reduced about 15 percent by the reduced number of returned bottles.
And because America recycles only about 30 percent of our glass, wine taps have already removed millions of bottles from our carbon footprint.
From the Tank takes an extra step toward earth-friendliness with KeyKeg packaging. Rather than a stainless steel keg, KeyKeg is a "bag-in-ball" surrounded by protective cardboard. An empty KeyKeg weighs just more than 2 pounds (compared to 15 pounds of an equivalent steel keg), requires no deposit, no return and is 100 percent recyclable.
But "green" only goes so far in consumer appeal. How does wine on tap taste?
Larson reports, "My customers are excited about the innovation; they're really excited about the wine quality."
About 20 kegged selections rotate in and out of our market, with some favorites including "Ross' Choice" and the wines below
Pacific Standard Sauvignon Blanc Savory, grassy and sweet citrus flavors defined by brisk acidity. A delicious cocktail and complement to seafood, including Hopleaf's mussels.
Milbrandt Vineyards Cuvee Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec blended for ripe, red fruit flavors, mocha accents and long, smooth finish. For grilled veggies, rich poultry and red meats.
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.