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How To Drink Wine at Ruby Tuesday

July 31, 2011

If you read my recent evaluation of Ruby Tuesday’s cocktail menu, I don’t think you could accuse me of shilling for the company after receiving those few drinks on the house. But I am really interested in chain restaurants, because after all that is how America eats.

Well, maybe not all of America, but a lot of America.

The tasting gave me access not only to Tom Mazza the regional general manger, but his presence also insured we had the full attention of bartender Heidi. So I took this opportunity to talk to them both more about the beverage program, and came away a good bit smarter about how to get a good glass of wine at Ruby Tuesday’s.

It’s unfortunate that more people don’t drink wine at the restaurant. I was told that most customers drink either cocktails or beer. Because the way the wine program is structured, with just a little bit more effort, it could really serve to demystify wine for Americans.

Let me explain.

The best way to learn about wine is to drink it. Period. If you want to learn about wine, this drinking should be mindful, and not just throwing back shots of juice. This is where the standard wine ritual comes into play. You may know it cold, but here it is for those just starting out, in three easy steps.

First, you hold the wine up to the light and examine its color. Then you take a big sniff, swirling first helps release some of the aromatics. You should neither feel pressure (nor silly if you are compelled) to state what the smell of the wine elicits. Finally, you take a sip, trying to expose the wine to all the surfaces of your mouth and tongue. Again, you can talk about how this wine tastes or just try to file away the taste memory, and simply decide if this is a wine you like.

Generally, I’ve found the best way to drink and taste a lot of wine is going to a wine bar. Regrettably, the Wine Bar on Lark doesn’t actually promote drinking wine in flights. So, despite being a fantastic restaurant with a winning wine list, as far as I’m concerned they aren’t much of a wine bar.

Oddly, in this one regard Ruby Tuesday’s overshadows what may be the best restaurant in town, because at this national chain you can order two samples of wine for a mere fifty cents. That’s four wines for a dollar.

And if you can find four wines worth tasting, I promise that by the end, you will be more confident in your ability to differentiate between wines, learn that wine can be fun, and most likely walk away discovering at least one wine that you enjoy.

The trick is finding four wines worth tasting.

Here is where the story gets a bit less rosy. The wines sold by the glass at Ruby Tuesday may have been open for a really long time. How long? Up to a maximum of six days. The good news is that at the end of every night, they attempt to preserve the wine using an inert gas (a process I support). But even still, I’ve found that some more delicate wines fade dramatically even after being open for a few hours.

But there’s an upside. The upside is that when a bottle of wine gets opened, its 6-day expiration date gets written on the bottle. So if you arrive when the bar isn’t slammed, you can enlist the bartender’s assistance in picking the most recently opened bottles.

I haven’t done this yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it out soon.

The plan is to try and assemble a tasting of the bottles that were opened in just the past day, or maybe two at the most. This won’t be an easy task, and it will require some creativity.

In some ways the Ruby Tuesday wine list is great for those looking to get into wine, because it takes a lot of the stuffiness out of subject. The bottles are broken out into quality levels of good, better and best. From there they seemed to be arranged from the lightest to the heaviest, with only three of the wine’s dominant characteristics called out. It’s easy to read, and easy to find something that suits your mood.

However, the list is of little help when it comes to this project. Ways to arrange a tasting could be keeping geography constant and trying different varietals, for example a pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and a zinfandel from Sonoma. But the wine list gives no information about geography. It also provides no guidance on vintage, otherwise it could also be fun to taste cabernet sauvignons from different vintages to better understand the effects of time on this varietal.

Still, you can think of four wines as two pairs, and look across Ruby Tuesday’s own quality levels. Maybe the jump from a good merlot to the best merlot is greater than the gap between the good pinot noir and the best pinot noir. This could be an interesting tasting as well. I would just advise you to choose either reds or whites and not commingle colors in a four glass flight.

When all is said and done, you can get a mega sized glass of the wine you enjoyed the most. Then you can either spend some time exploring its depth or simply enjoy sipping it with food and good company. Just be careful  because they’ll pour you eight ounces of the stuff. After all, this is America, and I’ve been told we like things big.

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