As Australians’ appreciation of wine has improved, so too have the wine by the glass lists on offer around the country. 

“The two most important things to me when it comes to wine are the place that it came from and the people who made it,” said James Hird, group wine director at Sydney’s Icebergs Dining Room and Bar and Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta, as well as recently reopened The Dolphin in Surry Hills.

The Dolphin boasts a dining room and a public bar with an open air terrace, as well as The Wine Room, which recently claimed the Hottest Wine Program title in The Weekend Australian’s annual Hot 50 Restaurant Awards.

The wine by the glass offering at The Wine Room comprises about 30 different drops, and the list is categorised by producer and region rather than varietal.

“Front of mind is not pouring one Sav Blanc, one Chardonnay and one Pinot Noir – it’s more about making an exciting 25 to 30 wines available to people that walk in, and to tell a bit of a story rather than just have a $10 glass of wine on offer.

“We change our by the glass listing pretty much every week. One producer will drop off, and we’ll pick up someone else. We tend to work with smaller producers who have less product, so we don’t necessarily want to put it on for the month and forget about it. We want to really explore their patch of earth. For instance, we just had a producer on by the glass called Clemens Busch, who is from Mosel in Germany. So we poured five of his Rieslings. It was pretty interesting because there are three slates in Mosel: red, blue and grey, and it was nice to be able to sit down and taste those soils side by side,” Hird said.


Australians are far more interested in by the glass offerings than they have been in previous years, and according to Hird, this is because consumers are more thoughtful about what and how they’re drinking.

“People are wiser in regards to how they drink,” he said. “After they share a bottle, maybe they think about having a glass rather than a second or third bottle.”

And while extensive wine by the glass lists have previously been reserved for restaurants, Hird said pubs are upping the ante, responding to Australians’ growing appreciation for venues that have both a relaxed ambience and a high quality food and beverage offering.

“Pubs used to be about drinking for a few hours and then eating something before you leave, where I think now we are consciously having a glass of wine and thinking about a dish that would go well with it.”


Communication is key
Rule number one when it comes to curating a popular and profitable wine by the glass menu is communication between staff members.

While The Dolphin’s dining room has a 120-strong team, The Wine Room has just four.

“It’s a small team, and everyone’s aware of what’s being opened, what needs to be pushed, and when something was opened. If one of us opens a bottle of Chablis that’s not on the by the glass list, everyone goes ‘OK, we’ve got the Chablis open, it’s a great chance for people to taste it … For me, it’s about communication and having staff who care about and understand wine.”

The same goes for producers, Hird said. There’s a lot to gain from staying in regular contact with those making the wine you’re pouring.

“Try as much as possible to talk to producers about every element of their wine. For example, what temperature they’d like their wine [served] at. For instance, Tom Shobbrook’s red wine [Barossa Valley] might be best at 15 degrees, and his white at 10. It’s nice to have as much direct contact with the person that made it, to understand how it fits into the by the glass or the wine program in general.”

Minimising waste
Of course the easiest way to ensure you’re not throwing out dozens half empty bottles of wine each week is to be busy, but the next best thing is to know your wine selection very well, continuously try new drops and regularly reevaluate your offering.

All of the wines at The Wine Room are refrigerated: reds at 15 and 13 degrees, and whites at 10 and six. This gives them a slightly longer shelf life once open, but the best way to avoid wastage is to be aware of what’s open and understand the characteristics of that wine.

Hird makes a point of trying between 20 and 30 new wines a day – or 100 to 200 each week – and this is the best way for him to gauge a drop’s suitability for the by the glass list.

“You know from the structure of some wines that they’re not going to last, like if it’s got lots of tannins or lots of structure then it’s probably going to hold a little bit longer than something that’s a bit softer and floral. It’s trial and error, definitely. But then there are surprises; some wines you open and it’s like they’re never going to die. They just keep going.


“But not all wines can be opened and done by the glass, I don’t think. Some orange wines or wines without many preservatives fall over pretty quickly, and you quickly realise not to pour those … but even wines that have been filtered and treated et cetera, can fall over. And some orange wines from producers like Dario Princic – you could open one and four days later it’s still perfect. It’s just about knowing the wine and how it will react once it’s exposed to air.”

Hird is bucking the trend at The Wine Room by not using any vacuum sealing equipment to extend the life of a bottle once opened. The aim of the wine by the glass menu is to shine a spotlight on producers and wines that are at their best at a certain point in time, and Hird feels that using such devices would detract from the venue’s philosophy.

“It’s all about choosing the wine carefully and spending a lot of time training staff about the wine, and putting the lid back on or the cork back in. We don’t use Coravin and we don’t use any vac-sealing systems because I really like the idea of being connected to the product. Once it’s open, it’s open for that moment in time and you’ve got to find someone to drink it. That’s worked really well; we’re not wasting any wine.”


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