Wine on tap

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, February 2011

Buying a bottle of premium wine can be a budget buster, but cuvenee systems offer the chance to taste wines that were once available only to high-end connoisseurs.

What’s on tap,” usually refers to beer. However, more and more people are asking that question in some area wine bars and restaurants that have state-of-the-art cuvenee systems. The wine dispensing and preservation systems allow restaurants to have many different bottles of wine open without the problem of them becoming “stale” through oxidation.

“Once air gets inside the bottle, the quality of the wine diminishes,” explains David Lewis, general manager of Ocala’s Cuvee Wine & Bistro. “A bottle of wine on your kitchen counter may last two or three days, but a bottle on a cuvenee system will last 50–60 days.”

Cuvenee systems operate by replacing oxygen with nitrogen gas, which prevents wines from oxidizing and, thus, going bad. The wines are kept at 55 degrees—considered to be the perfect cellar temperature.

A cuvenee system allows restaurants and wine bars to serve small pours of premium wines by the glass at very affordable prices. Customers can taste expensive wines without having to pay premium prices for an entire bottle.

Cuvée Wine & Bistro offers 104 wines from its wine dispensing system, which is sort of like upscale vending machines. Customers usually prepay for a card that is inserted into various locations around the dining rooms to choose 1-ounce, 2.5-ounce, or 5-ounce pours of wines they want to try. For $20 or so, you can sample several one-ounce pours to see what you like before choosing a larger glass to accompany your meal. Cuvée also offers wines by the bottle or by the glass.

“The cuvenee system is how we can afford to keep so many different bottles open,” explains Lewis. “And I joke that we have an ATM wine card so customers can try as many as they want.”

Lewis checks the wines at the 50-day mark to make sure they are still the same quality as the day the bottle was opened. He doesn’t lose many wines, but the ones that are becoming flat or not up to Cuvee Wine & Bistro’s standards are given to the kitchen staff for cooking.

“Sometimes you are getting an escargot prepared in a very expensive wine,” he says with a laugh.

Urban Flats in The Villages has had a 24-bottle cuvenee system in its bar since the restaurant opened three years ago. Although customers can’t pour for themselves from the cuvenee system at Urban Flats, they can certainly try a number of different wines on tap or by the bottle.

“Only a small percentage of our wines are on the cuvenee system because only a select group of our customers want the premium wines,” says Scott Vasatka, general manager for Urban Flats. “We sell a greater volume of house wines, but when customers want a more expensive wine, they are assured the quality is still there if the wine is on the cuvenee system. “

Wine drinkers aren’t always in search of high-end Opus One or Silver Oak cabernets. Sometimes they just want to try something new before buying a full bottle. Or possibly they want to enjoy an evening out with a good glass of wine.

Garvino’s in The Villages also has a 24-bottle wine-dispensing system in its popular wine bar that opened three years ago next door to its cigar and fine wine shop. The most popular wines on tap are the Mark Davidson Shiraz and the William Hill Chardonnay. Those wines by the bottle can run anywhere from $20 to $30 in wine shops. For most people that’s a still a big commitment for a bottle of wine—that you may or may not like.

At Garvino’s, wines by the glass run from $5 to $14, depending on the wine. It’s a great way to try something first before buying an entire bottle.

Cuvenee systems make the process of choosing wine fun and educational. If you’re not sure whether you’d like a Shiraz or a Mouvedre, a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet, then a trip to the nearest wine dispensary may be just what a connoisseur would recommend.

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