Bistrot Lepic has a comfortable, dimly lit wine bar that is one of my favorite date spots in the city, boasting a romantic atmosphere and a good, if short, list of French wines by the glass. The Gallic spirit extends to the Tuesday night tastings, too, where all selections come from France.
Caveat: The evening's expert is sometimes a representative of the wine importer or the producer, so you're looking at an ethical trade-off. Though certainly not impartial arbiters of the wine's taste and quality, these people are paid to know everything there is to know about the vineyard's grapes, soil and harvest, so they should be able to answer your questions.
On one recent visit, patrons got to sample two champagnes from Heidsieck and Co. Monopole: the Blue Top brut (which happens to be Lepic's top champagne by the glass) and the fruity, summery Rose.
There's no designated tasting area at Lepic, so the champagne house's rep -- a well-dressed, smooth-talking Frenchman -- sidled up to every table soon after the customers arrived. "Would you like to taste some champagne? It's free!" Since no one says no to free bubbly, he'd fetch glasses and a bottle of brut from an ice bucket near the bar. Everyone was served half a flute, along with the salesman's perfunctory pitch: It's made in Epernay, in Champagne. The grapes are mostly pinot noir, with 20 percent chardonnay and 10 percent pinot meunier. It's not as dry as some others. How do you like it?
A few minutes later, a second glass appears: this time, the soft pink Rose. The process repeats itself.
I've found that I enjoy the evening more when my friends and I snag a seat at the bar and let Ted, the longtime bartender, serve as our guide for the evening. A few weeks ago, the night's free selections included a dry, easy-drinking Puligny-Montrachet from Louis Latour. "If you like that, do you want to try a little flight?" he asked. He picked two other whites from the house list, and we had an enjoyable time sampling half-glasses. It's easy on the wallet, too: On Tuesday nights, every wine on the list, whether by the glass or full bottle, is discounted 20 percent.
The tasting dates sometimes change. If you're curious about what wines will be offered or want to stay on top of the schedule, sign up for the restaurant's e-mail list at http://www.bistrotlepic.com.
-- Fritz Hahn