Wine by the Glass: Do Women Get Less?

Uncorking the City’s Lettie Teague whips out her measuring cup to see if there is a gender pour gap in Manhattan’s wine bars

bn-jy245_nyunco_m_20150820164734Women get short shrift in different aspects of life, studies have shown. Of course, the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling are two of the most talked-about barriers.

But what about when women are dining out? Do they get shortchanged when it comes to wine? A friend of mine is certain that sommeliers or bartenders will always pour her less wine than they will a man.

I’ve rarely felt that a bartender or sommelier cheated me out of my rightful amount. On the other hand, how could I be sure? It wasn’t as if I carried around a measuring cup to check, but what if I did?

I spent a week visiting restaurants and wine bars all over Manhattan, ordering wine by the glass—and measuring the amounts with a small, liquid measuring cup I carried in my purse.

I went to restaurants and wine bars with good wine lists and good reputations for their wine service. I visited two places in the company of a male friend, one establishment with a female friend and another by myself. The results surprised us all.

The wine list at Nice Matin on the Upper West Side is considered one of the best in New York City. Its 25 wines by the glass are well-chosen and diverse.

How many ounces were in a glass of wine? I asked Mef, the Nice Matin bartender. “I don’t know,” she replied, a bit startled by the question that she said isn’t usually asked “unless someone has a complaint.” Mef thought the amount was about 6 ounces.

“I think most restaurants under-pour,” opined my friend, Stephen, who had joined me. In his mind, bartenders consistently pour one-fourth to one-third less than “what they say it is.”

We each ordered a glass of rosé and when Mef turned away, I dumped the contents of each glass into my measuring cup. The amount of wine for each of us: 7 ounces.

Our next stop was Vin Sur Vingt, a wine bar at Broadway and 27th Street with a big list and several offerings by the glass. How many ounces were in their wines by the glass? I asked a bartender named Jules. “Here we don’t talk about ounces,” he replied, although he did say the bar policy dictated getting four glasses out of a bottle.

Since a wine bottle holds 25.4 ounces, Jules was pouring just over 6 ounces a glass, I said to Stephen, who ordered a glass of Provençal rosé. I ordered a glass of Muscadet. When Jules wasn’t looking, I measured the wine in each glass: just over 7 ounces for me and almost 8 for Stephen. “The bartender likes me,” Stephen said.

At Morrell Wine Bar & Café at Rockefeller Center, the standard by the glass pour is 5 ounces, according to wine director Anna Cabrales. The servers are instructed to pour to the middle of the “M” on the glass. Morrell Wine Bar has a prodigious wine list and features 118 wines by the glass.

My friend, Peggy, who is a wine professional, accompanied me to Morrell Wine Bar. Had Peggy ever wondered about how much wine was in her glass? I asked. She hadn’t. We each ordered a glass—rosé for Peggy, Chablis for me. We each had been poured just under 7 ounces. Another pleasant surprise.

My last visit was to Felice 64, on the Upper East Side. This time I went alone. Felice 64 specializes in Italian wines; the owners have a winery in Tuscany and its wines are the featured house selections. My waiter, Louis, urged me to try a glass of the house rosé. How much was in a glass? I asked. “I don’t know,” Louis replied but assured me the portion was generous. And as if to prove it, he poured a bit more wine into my glass. Louis was right—a full 8 ounces. I left him an appropriately sizable tip.

When I revealed my experiment, and its outcome, to the wine directors of a few of the restaurants, their responses varied from disappointment to shock. Only one wine director seemed somewhat pleased with the results.

There is the matter of cost control, naturally. “I’m glad they didn’t under-pour you, but 7 ounces is a bit much,” Aviram Turgeman, Nice Matin’s wine director, pointed out. Too much wine eats into profits and the wines by the glass are something that help “pay the rent.”

Ms. Cabrales of Morrell Wine Bar & Café struck the same tone but suggested the generosity of the server might have been because he recognized me. The servers have a little leeway, she added, but 7 ounces was “a bit much.”

Only Alex Berlingeri, corporate beverage director of Felice 64, seemed amused by my story of an overly generous employee. “We’re hospitality-driven,” he said. And I didn’t get any particularly special treatment, he noted. “They’re generous to everyone,” he said. On the other hand, an 8-ounce pour “explains a lot of things,” he laughed.

Hopefully, they’ll still be able to pay their rent.