Is That Valuable Tap Handle Going to…Wine?
A growing number of restaurants and bars are stocking wine in kegs, reports Wine Spectator, and pouring wines by the glass from a tap. While not a new idea, keg wines—and their economic and environmental benefits—now seem to be gaining traction.
Wine kegs can be found on-premise all over the country, with high concentrations in California and New York.
And this not exclusively lower end wines. Some retailers are putting high-end wines such as Saintsbury Chardonnay Carneros 2009, Miner Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 and Clif Family Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2009 to name just a few.
Even a new name is popping up to describe this “multi-tap” retailers; “winepub.”
The notion of wine out of a keg has been slow to catch on in the past. But two things have changed that; demographics and because people are figuring out how to do it right. Jim Neal of N2 Wines, a winery and packaging facility in Napa, first started experimenting with tap wines in 2005, but was unhappy with how the wines tasted. He now uses a system of inert gas to help clean and sanitize kegs, with a special system to clean the steel dispensing tube inside the keg. He also discovered that the tubing used in beer keg systems was gas permeable—it let oxygen in—so he switched to tubing with a gas barrier. Inert gases like nitrogen and argon protect the wine from oxidizing. But wine on tap also needs small amounts of carbon dioxide—trace amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide are left in wines before they are bottled, helping a wine’s aromatic and fresh qualities. Neal suggests a similar thinking with keg wine, and recommends a mix of nitrogen with a small amount of carbon dioxide, similar to what is used when Guinness is poured on tap.
Michael Ouellette of Vintap, a wine distributor and broker, agrees there are some challenges with the mechanical side of keg wine, so he is adamant about making certain the proper equipment is installed before he sells a restaurant wine in a keg. But once everything is in place, he says, “Compared to everything else that can go wrong in a restaurant, you can forget about it.”
That said, restaurants are still holding on to their corkscrews. Tap wines will probably never move beyond wines meant for early consumption. But a wine-by-the-glass program can be simplified and improved by serving wines on tap. Piccola Cellars in Woodinville, WA, is taking the next step—the winery packages their wines exclusively in kegs they sell directly to consumers, including a refill service.