Drinking wine and writing about it for a living is hardly anything to complain about. In fact, we're positively jazzed about how far the wine programs at many of our favorite Denver haunts have come. One particularly inspiring development in recent years has been the opening of several wine bars, many of which hawk discounted vino and snacks during late-afternoon and early-evening hours. "What could be better than tossing back a few glasses of hooch at recession-friendly prices?" we wondered. Turns out, the answer is "lots." After suffering through a spate of truly unfortunate, not-so-happy hours, it's time we got a few things off our chest. Herewith, five particularly egregious wine-bar happy-hour fails:
1. Lame selections: Just because you're offering us a deal on wine, please don't insult us by including in that offer only two choices. Positioning your establishment as a bona fide wine bar leads us to believe that your intention is to sell a wide array of juice, particularly in by-the-glass portions, as a large majority of your sales. Why not use happy hour instead to open interesting -- dare we say, titillating -- bottles that'll pique our palates and tempt us to come back again and again, even when we have to pony up full price?
2. Dated goods: Oenophiles run the risk of drinking something past its expiration date every single time we choose a wine that's available by the glass. That's because we've absolutely no way of knowing precisely how long it's been since that first, very lucky customer scored the freshest serving -- aka, the first one. Then again, we shouldn't need to know: that's your job. Part of pre-shift service at a wine bar (make that any venue serving wine) should include a perfunctory taste of every open bottle. Wine is a living thing, which means that there's no set rule of thumb when it comes to the number of days standing between "perfectly fine" and "cooking wine." So help us out. Please?
3. Cheap vs. value pours: We'd like to believe that most happy hour revelers aren't looking to get something for nothing. A highly enjoyable glass of vino, that happens to be less expensive? Absolutely. We can confidently assert that there are case loads of esoteric, lesser-known bottles any discerning wine bar manager can order for less than the price of a movie ticket at the Mayan. For example, a value torrontes from Argentina should still deliver the classic characteristics of its grape variety: a floral nose, mid-weight texture and ripe pear flavors. A cheap torrontes served to us recently made us think we'd accidentally swallowed a mouthful of bitter hand soap. In short, please don't foist off on us anything you wouldn't be genuinely fired up to drink yourself -- price notwithstanding.
4. Wine-unfriendly food: This one absolutely kills us. Why do so many wine bars fail to understand the symbiotic relationship that exists between food and wine, as evidenced by the preponderance of jalapeño poppers that continue to appear on appetizer menus in this town? For the love of Bacchus, do us a favor and resist the urge to plate up any item that is "pepper-crusted" as a companion to anything vinous. Foods like these are not only nearly impossible to pair with wine, but for someone less versed in organoleptic concepts, can result in a wholly unpleasant experience called chemesthesis, which in layman's terms equates to the the feeling that your mouth is engulfed in flames. Ditto the unimaginative hunk of Day Glo-orange cheese and Oscar Mayer-quality cold cuts. If your food cost margins are that tight, salted popcorn is hella cheap, and tastes great with a multitude of grape varieties.
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5. Lackadaisical service: We realized just how crappy a previous wine bar's happy hour service experience had been after dashing into a completely different enoteca with mere minutes left on the clock to score some killer deals. We practically did a double-take after hearing the gracious barkeep say, "Here's the wine list. Take your time; I'll make sure you get happy hour pricing." Classy -- and a total 180 from the snarky response we got several weeks ago upon inquiring about the provenance of a glass of red we peeped another guest sipping. "That's not on happy hour," she tartly informed us. Uh...and? Next time, hold the attitude and seize the opportunity to turn our curiosity into an upsell. Better still: spend a few minutes telling us what's new on the list, or gushing about a few of your favorites, and why we should try them. That way, everybody wins.