Wine on tap, how it works at Cafe Luc
A few months back, I visited Cafe Luc to try their wines on tap. I like the idea of wine on tap, especially if it’s house wine as let’s face it, if you’re ordering house wine, you’re not that fussed. That said, however, it shouldn’t be a glass of dreck that you can barely gag down with your steak frites or whatever it is you’ve ordered.
I met with Charles Grisar, the owner and inventor of the wine tap that Cafe Luc uses in its Belgian and London restaurants. Charles runs an wine importing business as well as supplying all the wines for the Cafe Luc chain. He sources all the wines personally to ensure that not only interesting but also quality wines get on his wine list. His company, Les Vins Personalises says it all. Charles tastes every wine that goes on the list and in most cases has visited the vineyard at least once before putting it on his list.
The same goes for the wines on tap. He believes it is possible to get quality wines on tap if there is enough volume. To that end, Cafe Luc and it’s sister restaurants in Belgium seem to be filling that requirement handily. Despite the varied reviews that Cafe Luc has been getting, they seem to be running through the wine fairly quickly. Charles has 3 criteria for his wine on tap: do you like it? would you order another glass and is the wine well balanced? If it can pass those three objectives then it goes in the box and onto the tap. Charles currently offers 18 different wines in the bag in box format. The wines have to be in bag-in-box so that they can be hooked up to the system that Charles devised to deliver the wine to the wine taps. The system was first devised for restaurants that had beer on tap. The idea being to convert them to wine on tap. He had to get rid of the CO2 component as that takes up a lot of space and also requires alarm systems to detect leaks. He came up with electric pumps and valves to power his wine tap.
I had a look at the tap and it is basically one spigot with 4 outlets for the wine, it’s all very compact and takes up very little space on the counter top. Cafe Luc has 8 wines on tap and they barely take up the room of 2 regular beer taps. I tried the wines on a previous visit and I found them to be quite drinkable, the whites dry and unoffensive on the low end and showing some varietal character on the higher end. The reds seemed to fare better on tap, surprisingly, as I would have thought they would suffer. Charles wants his goal to be for the wine quality to improve year on year. He is searching for only the best bag in box wine that he can find and growers are responding by not just throwing the rejects into the bag in box but actually taking the time to make a quality wine to go in the box.
After my tour of the whole wine on tap system, we had lunch paired with wines from Charles’ list. I opted for the chicken in champagne sauce with noodles. I’ve eaten at Cafe Luc in the past and believe me, that chicken dish is mighty tasty. Charles chose a Cotes du Beaune to start, from Vincent Bachelet, “the energizer bunny of Burgundy” as Charles refers to him. An old vines 2006 1er cru Maranges from the south of Santenay. Vincent is a relatively unknown producer which helps to keep the price down while still delivering on the quality. I love a good Burgundy and this one did not disappoint. A subtle perfume of strawberry and cherry on the nose followed by that heavenly sur bois aroma of wet autumn leaves, truffles and mushrooms. A joyful pinot but silky and a real pleasure to drink.
To balance lunch out, we also had a New Zealand wine, the 2009 Wild Rock from Marlborough, a typical Kiwi sauvignon blanc, full of gooseberry and lime with a hint of asparagus for good measure. It was quite a humid day that day we lunched at Cafe Luc so this was nice little thirst quencher before we started on our main meal.
The wine list at Cafe Luc is not outrageously priced and I think the wine on tap is a great idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more of them around town. Cost efficient, waste efficient and an environmentally friendly system that delivers wine with no surprises, and no danger of corked or oxidized wines. I’d say raise a glass to Charles and his wines on tap.