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Special delivery; From quartinos to carafes, two-ounce pours to super-sized 12-ounce glasses, restaurants are dazzling guests with an array of vinous volumes.

Instead of developing a by-the-glass wine selection, management at Centro Vinoteca opted for the quartino when opening the restaurant in the summer of 2007. The Italian restaurant and wine bar in Manhattan's West Village offers up to 40 wines by the quartino, thus adopting a practice once confined to the osterias and enotecas of Italy.

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"We were really enchanted by the quartino during our travels to Italy," says George Elkins, managing director at Mangia Hospitality Group, owner of Gusto and Centro Vinoteca, referring to the small carafe that delivers a glass and a half of wine. "When we opened Centro Vinoteca and sold wine by the quartino, we had such tremendous response from our customers. Our wine sales increased and we were selling more wine by the quartino than we would have sold by the glass. So we ended up introducing the quartino at Gusto, as well."

He points out that pricier bottles of Barolo and super Tuscans become much more accessible when poured by the 250 ml vessel. "They definitely move faster this way than they do by the bottle. From a cost and profitability point of view, it's a win-win situation for the customer and for us.

"I run specials, too," he adds. "Our list is mostly composed of small producers, so there is often limited production, which we quickly run out of. It's fun to close out some of those wines by the quartino."

The quartino, an appealing way to deliver perceived value to the guest, is proving so successful that in addition to independents, chains such as McCormick & Schmick's and Carrabba's offer wine in the vessels.

Other small-pour formats are appearing at bars and restaurantrs around the country, too, as operators seek to merchandise wine in interesring formats. too, as operators seek to merchandise wine in interesting formats. JoLe in Calistoga, Calif., a restaurant specializing in small plates and local ingredients, menus a list of 12-ounce wine pours by the pichet, a French carafe. Our of the fun, eclectic, 50-bottle wine list, 26 are available by the pichet, in addition to 28 choices by the glass.

"I've worked in suburban and country restaurants where there is the issue of drinking and driving," explains general manager Susanne Breen. "With our pickets, couples can share a half bottle of wine without having to worry. It's also economical for the diner. Instead of getting two glasses of sauvignon blanc, they can order a pichet and get a price break of about a dollar or two. And obviously the more you pour, the better your profits are going to be."

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Italian small plate restaurant and wine bat Inoteca in New York serves wines by the glass, the carafe and the bottle. Inoteca's carafes contain half a bottle of vino; guests can choose from 25 selections, both reds and whites, ranging from a simple soave to more obscure wines from Friuli. "We serve the Damijan Kaplja [from Friuli] by the carafe," says wine director Jim Marsh. "It's a wine that calls for hand-selling. Most people wouldn't choose it from the bottle list, but by the glass or the carafe, people take risks." Marsh also points to another benefit of the carafe: "It automatically aerates the wine, which is great for heavier reds."

Prepackaged half bottles get special attention at venues in the Spring Restaurant Group portfolio, which includes Spring, Green Zebra and Custom House restaurants in Chicago. A broad selection of half bottles at Green Zebra complement the menu's focus on small plates. "Because of the varying degrees of texture and flavors that diners order in a typical evening," says wine ditector Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky, "half bottles are in tandem with the idea of sharing a few bites with wine and then moving on to another small plate with a different wine."

The lesser financial risk of a demi bottle also is perfect for enticing guests to upgrade or try something new. "They ate perfect for those who don't have the luxury of committing to the full bottle. Customers are more likely to buy a half bottle of a boutique California cabernet at $50 than they are for a full bottle at $100," says Kim-Drohomyrecky. She sells high-end cabernets in 375 ml bottles from the likes of Quintessa, Hourglass and Robert Foley Vineyards. "They're moving faster than they would by the full bottle."

Presenting guests with a wine glass and their own individual carafe adds a little something special, according to Bill Irvin, director of operations at the 25-unit Phillips Seafood chain, based in Baltimore. "Six ounces can look awfully small, especially when you're charging up to $15 or $16 a glass. Serving from a small carafe offers a sense of presentation, allowing guests to feel like they're taking part in the dining experience. Plus, our carafes hold the perfect six-ounce pour so there is no possibility of over- or under-pouring. When it's busy, it's easy to over-pour, and when you're going through thousands of bottles a year, an extra ounce here and there really adds up."

Boston-based Uno Chicago Grill takes a different tact at its more than 200 restaurants. Corporate beverage manager Marc Sachs recently put a large format wine glass that carries a 12-ounce pour to the test, and the results are promising. "We wanted to offer the guest more portion choice, but we didn't want to introduce more glassware," says Sachs. "Rather than have a quartino or a carafe, we've got one vessel that does both jobs."

He adds, "It's great for diners to be in charge of portions. It's like food. They don't want a 14-ounce piece of protein anymore; they want to taste different things instead. They want variety, and the same goes for wine. Full bottle sales at many white tablecloth restaurants ate in decline simply because of price and portion."

More choice means a range of volume offerings and profit opportunities. In the quest for maximum guest and bottom line satisfaction, offering wines solely by the glass and by the bottle may no longer be enough.

Pameladevi Govinda is a New York-based wine, spirits, travel and lifestyle writer. Her contributions have appeared in a number of industry and. consumer magazines.
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Author:Govinda, Pameladevi
Publication:Cheers
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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