By Christopher Calicott · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
For some time now I've been meaning to make my way out to the M Resort in south end of the Las Vegas valley to try their wine bar - The Hostile Grape. Since they opened they have been advertising their selection of wines by the glass or by the ounce and a trip was long overdue.
I have to admit: any time I hear about some large number of "wines by the glass," I am not usually very excited about the prospects, due to past experiences. I have searched high and low for techniques in restaurants and bars to open bottles for by-the-glass service while preventing oxidation, and while some work better than others, I can honestly say that none work well. I mean none. There are machines that cost tens of thousands of dollars for a restaurant or bar to install that attempt to pull something of a vacuum from the bottle while dispensing carefully measured amounts of temperature-controlled wine. Other systems are decidedly more low-fi but work just as well as the expensive machines, including using inert gases that are heavier than air to displace the oxygen, in an attempt to interrupt undesireable chemical processes. The fact is, however, that when you remove a cork from a bottle, you have started that bottle on a journey towards its end. Even if you immediately attach it to a machine, fresh air has been introduced into the wine, forever altering it. That's a process that does not seem to stop, either, but I digress.
All that having been said, I did go to The Hostile Grape with an open mind. I had imagined that to serve that many wines by the glass - they advertise one hundred sixty - and in particular because they also sell many of them by the ounce, they must be using those circular wine-dispensing stations that seem to be something of a trend for wine bars these days. I arrived at M Resort and went straight down to the celler - a very nice hotel, by the way - and I was greeted by a pretty different wine drinking environment than you might expect. Las Vegas, being what it is, people expect a certain amount of flash, and most places in town try to brand and position themselves with a certain amount of edginess and modernity. The Hostile Grape is certainly no different as you can tell from the bright accent colors of their decor. There are a few touches of traditional and more organic styling that attempt to bring a softening to the look of the place, such as old barrels behind glass in the entrance and the ceiling in the main part of the wine bar being decorated in an abstract sort of way with staves from wine barrels. Lighting it with neon purple, however, negates any softening effect the wood would have.
So the way wine bars that are offering so many wines by the glass seem to be working these days, as something of a trend at least, are these circular machines that have spigots with different wine bottles attached to them. You get a card and charge it up with money and then you can go around to whatever wine you care to try and get either a three ounce glass, a full five ounce glass, or a one ounce taste. The idea is a good one on the face of it: variety and trying things are where it's at when it comes to wine and this would give someone a chance to try dozens of wines at a go. The problem is that you have tens of dozens of bottles are various stages of being completely drank and some being mostly ignored. In the case of The Hostile Grape, you also have a clientele limited to those hotel guests or locals that are willing to drive to the very most southern end of the valley to consume these wines. It stands to reason that the turnover is not quick enough to keep the bottles at a high level of freshness and that was my personal experience with the wines we tasted.
Among the wines we tasted last night were a 2004 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a 2004 M. Chapoutier "La Mordorée," a 2005 Poetry cabernet sauvignon, a 2004 Rubicon Estate "Cask Cabernet," and a 2006 M. Chapoutier "La Bernardine," several of which I have in my personal cellar, and all except for one I have tasted before (we also tasted a 2005 Sauternes and a Madeira, neither of which are worth mentioning by name.) It does not matter, really, what the blame for the underwhelming tastes of these wines are, be it a lack of turnover, the technology used in their serving, or some other factor I have not considered. The fact is they did not taste as good as they should. They were not terrible or "bad" but they were not up to the different qualities that I know each of these wines to actually be, either. Further, it has to be said that there is something about buying wines - potentially fine wines - in a vending machine fashion that is fundamentally flawed, plain and simple. You are required to buy a card - yes, literally buy the card (it is $5,even for Las Vegas locals, and comes with no credit on it) - and then purchase credits in $25 increments, which will not go very far in The Hostile Grape. I bought $25 worth, had two half-glasses of wine, and realized I only had a couple of odd dollars left and would need more credit to try anything else. With another $50 on the card, we had a decent small sampling of each of the wines mentioned above, but we were not there very long.
One last thing that must be said about this new wine serving trend is that it completely removes the educational and interactive part of the wine bar equation: not once did someone who works there ask us if they could recommend something or ask if we need any help beyond refilling our card, though the clerk was very friendly, and I'm sure he would have answered any questions that we asked him. The point is, sitting at a wine bar and talking to a human who regularly samples new wines that are being offered is a part of the wine experiencing process that is eliminated by these wine vending machines. In the end, though, if you're not too critical about your wine drinking, you might want to give The Hostile Grape a shot. I would make sure you keep in mind, however, that this environment is not one where you can - with any certainty at all - decide what your opinions of the wines you are tasting really are, because tasting the same wines from a fresh bottles would be a very, very different experience.
Reviewed Friday, March 26, 2010