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Why wine by the glass is looking better and better

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At Graffiato, “Top Chef” veteran Mike Isabella’s new restaurant in Penn Quarter, you can start your meal with a celebratory glass of prosecco, Italy’s soft counterpart to champagne, drawn from a tap. You can wash down your pizza at Two Amys with a glass of California sangiovese, also on tap. During the summer, patio sippers at Poste Moderne Brasserie who ordered the house wines got their California sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon fresh from the keg, just like microbrewed craft beer.

Along with pulling pints of Guinness, bartenders in several D.C. restaurants are drawing tastes, glasses and carafes of wine from kegs. Wine on tap is slowly spreading through wine-by-the-glass programs. It’s attractive because the kegs prevent exposure to oxygen, keeping the wine fresh. If you’ve ever shied away from wine by the glass because you don’t know how long that bottle on the bar has been open, wine on tap is for you. With this system, the last glass out of a keg is as fresh as the first.

With wine on tap, the District once again has trailed trend-setting cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Columbia, where kegged wines are all the rage.

Yes, the Columbia in Howard County.

At Aida Bistro & Wine Bar there, owners Joe and Mary Barbera (with a name like that, who wouldn’t trust their wine program?) decided last year that they needed to upgrade their wine list. They closed their popular restaurant in a busy strip mall and built a stand-alone building nearby, with a dedicated cellar for 20 kegs to dispense wine through stainless-steel pipes and taps in the restaurant’s dining room.

The new Aida opened in December and proved so popular that Joe Barbera decided to expand his keg system. By the end of this month, he will have room for 10 more kegs, giving him the flexibility to offer more wines by the 3-ounce pour, 5-ounce glass and 10- or 20-ounce carafe. His current keg list includes wines from Big Fire in Oregon, Frog’s Leap in California and Stone Mountain in Virginia. New additions will include the hard-to-find pinot noir from Calera and several blends from Zenaida Cellars, both in California’s Central Coast region.

“I get a big smile on my face when someone says they only want to drink wine out of a bottle,” Barbera said. “When they taste a wine from the keg and realize how fresh it is, that’s all they want.”

Wineries were slow to warm to his program, he said, but now more and more are offering their wines by the keg. The expansion to 30 taps will enable him to juggle his keg list to provide greater variety for diners, he said.

“I want to offer wines that are reliable from the first drop to the last,” Barbera said. “Customers are assured of getting a fresh wine.”

Patrons were surprised when Poste Moderne Brasserie began offering two wines on tap this past spring for visitors to its popular patio, said Daniel Lobsenz, the assistant general manager.

“We explained that it works well with our eco-friendly efforts for the restaurant by cutting down on waste and promoting the consistency of the product,” he said.

Each keg obviates the need to dispose of or recycle 25 standard wine bottles and reduces the carbon footprint for shipping the wine. The kegs can be sent back to the winery for reuse.

Lobsenz sees a wider market for keg wines than just restaurants. “The great market will be the casual bars where you might shy away from the wine that’s been sitting on the back of the bar since who knows when,” he said.

Wine, a fashionable drink in sports bars? We’ll see about that. But this might give a high-gloss patina to the cry of “keg party!”

Dave McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com; follow him on Twitter @dmwine.

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