Fresh Tap means fresh wines

WHEN it comes to offering wines by the glass, Vancouver has long been at the cutting edge.

In fact, few other cities can boast the selection available here; it's turned us into a pretty choosy bunch.

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Put it down to tougher drinking driving laws (or maybe our uber-discerning palates) but most of us are more likely to order a glass of wine to go with a specific dish rather a bottle for the entire meal.

However, sometimes ordering by the glass can be a crapshoot. After all, who knows how long that bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc might have been open and sitting there? One night? Two? Fact is you don't. And in some cases the server doesn't either.

If Mike Macquisten and Steve Thorp - the young entrepreneurs behind Vancouver Urban Winery - get their way, we'll be drinking a whole lot more wine from kegs, and in the pretty near future.

You can already check out their Fresh Tap keg wines at Vancouver's Edible Canada at the Market, which has two Nichol Vineyard Naramata wines (Nichol's Gewurz is a slam dunk with a couple of dishes). Fairmont Hotel Vancouver will shortly be offering Blasted Church Hatfield's Fuse for banquets, and possibly more.

Not only do the drops (which come from a 19.5-litre stainless keg) taste perfect but the wine tastes exactly it did when the winemaker last set eyes on it. It has to pass a thorough check by the company's staff winemaker before being kegged from the bulk shipment.

Macquisten and Thorp rightly figured if beer can be sold on tap, then why not wine? They went looking for clues in Europe (where wine's been sold on tap for years) and south of the border, where it's just beginning to catch on in cities such as San Francisco, Denver and Las Vegas, not to mention New York.

Aside from keeping the wine far fresher than in bottle (because the kegs are nitrogen filled), there are also plenty of other advantages ranging from lower product cost to less freight, breakage and, of course, spoilage. What will be really interesting will be to see who passes the savings onto the customer - and who doesn't.

In the meantime Fresh Tap also has its own brand of imported regional wines, named "Nice Catch." First out of the gate is a very drinkable Kiwi Sauv Blanc, with a Mendoza Malbec (Argentina) expected soon. The pair are also planning a retail store - and the spacious, character building is already in demand as a function room. (55 Dunlevy Ave., 604-566-9463)

While Fresh Tap's a no-brainer for Casual Fine Dining chains, for whom high volume, keg budget wines are an obvious choice, Macquisten and Thorp are also setting their sights a lot higher.

They're in negotiation with at least one premium producer and there may be more.

However, with our thirst for affordable wines, there's no question that most of the keg product will be at the lower end. The arrival of well made, economical bulk regional wines from overseas also has broad implications for highly contentious Cellared in Canada products, which will finally get some much needed competition.

So next time you're dining out, if someone asks if you'd like a glass of keg wine, don't be a snob: give it a try! You might just be surprised; and you'll be drinking a far more sustainable product than its bottled cousin.

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