A few months back, I addressed the growing number of wines-on-tap in restaurants around New York City. The problem with the trend was that many of the wines stunk–particularly the ones sourced abroad–and they weren’t priced like tap wines! I thought the savings were to be passed down to consumers? At least that is one argument being made for the use of kegged wines, yet NYC restaurants still charge a ridiculous $9-$14 a glass for not very good wine.
In my opinion, the first goal of a wine-on-tap program should be a focus on high-quality, local wines in a sustainable package, as the Europeans have done for thousands of years. The trattorias of Chianti certainly aren’t serving up Côtes du Rhône alongside a plate of pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale. Not only was it natural due to isolation and travel cost considerations to develop a culture of eating and drinking locally, but they had great raw ingredients and made good wine, so why go elsewhere?
Nowadays, food and wine are shipped from every corner of the globe, overnight. The energy costs are high, but consumers are curious and demand both local and international options. Thus, if they are going to drink Austrian wines anyway, why shouldn’t they also be served-up in “green” packaging? Foremost in sourcing international wines for kegs is the Gotham Project. Although their first, flagship wine was a Riesling from the Finger Lakes, they quickly began adding overseas options to their line-up. Unfortunately, I found those wines awful–a Moschofilero from Greece and Garnacha from Spain, undrinkable and seriously overpriced. Perhaps maintaining their position as industry leader was more important than the wines themselves?
Yesterday I attended Michael Skurnik’s Grand Portfolio Tasting. The first booth I ran into was the Gotham Project, so I started there to see if they might change my mind about their wines. The first pour was a Grüner Veltliner from Weinviertel, Austria. The wine crackled and popped from bright acidity and a little CO2 spritz, showing green apple and flinty minerality. For the right price, I would certainly order this in a big carafe on a hot afternoon with a group of friends. The next two wines were NY State: Empire Builder White and 2012 Riesling. The Empire Builder is a Chard/Riesling blend from the Finger Lakes, perfectly serviceable, although not as immediately satisfying as the Grüner. Their latest version of Riesling from 2012 is supposedly a lot sweeter, although the acidity kept the sugar in balance and thus I found it more appealing than past incarnations that lacked backbone.
Next up were the reds. First, we tasted a rosé called Schnieder & Bieler made from Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. Not sure what was going on with that wine–the hue reminded me of a rusty screw. The wine offered barely discernible berry notes, although it was rather crisp. It wasn’t terrible, but lacked identity. We moved on to the El Rede Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. The pleasantly fruity wine was overwhelmed by a bitter finish. So far, not a great start to the group. Unfortunately, before we got to try the Empire Builder Red, Sangiovese and Cab Sauv, the tap pooped out.
My conclusion, having tasted half the wines, is that the whites were promising. The grüner in particular. Hopefully Gotham Project found reds that can compete, and will also encourage restaurant partners to sell them at competitive prices. Otherwise, why would consumers buy an average wine on tap without the benefit of the savings, given there are plenty of great by-the-glass options in this city that come from bottles. Either find better wines or sell them for less!