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At OTD, the wine is on tap

Photographs of OTD by Tim Williamson

By Chris Barnett

The price on the wine list looks like a proofreader’s mistake. But celebrated chef Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame — and owner of the new and wildly popular Out The Door Vietnamese bistro on Bush Street, just off Fillmore — is selling a 2008 sauvignon blanc from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley for $4 a glass — or $16 for a full bottle.

Just don’t ask to see the bottle. Or smell the cork.

The sauvignon blanc and 11 other varietals flow from chrome spigots attached to sleek stainless steel cylinders connected to five-gallon kegs hidden behind closed doors. It’s wine on tap.

“I got the idea from a story about a Los Angeles hamburger place that has affordable wines on tap,” Phan says. “I said, ‘That’s cool stuff. We can do that.’ ”

The project was put in the hands of Gus Vahlkamp, a sommelier for the Phan family empire, who was up for the challenge. “It’s always befuddled me why a glass of tasty, well-made wine can’t cost the same as a glass of good beer,” he says.

OTD: cool stuff

The sommelier originally envisioned three wines on tap — a red, a white and a rose. But Phan had a grander plan: 12 spigots offering a spectrum of prices and quality. The wines would rotate as more vintners were willing to custom blend wine for OTD that could be stored in a keg pressurized to ensure freshness.

The gas may turn off some purists, but Vahlkamp says pressurization effectively protects the wine. And the kegs may sound off-putting to oenophiles who fancy their wines aged in vintage French oak. OTD’s tap wines are stored in converted Cornelius kegs once used for tap beer and soda pop.

Phan envisioned tapping into the market for really fine wines by the glass and pouring different size servings. OTD offers a half glass, full glass, half carafe or full carafe, with the price doubling each step up.

For fun and buzz, the tap wine is served in carafes that are actually Pyrex flasks. And the steel cylinders and chrome taps add to the restaurant’s ultra-modern look.

Traditionalists still have plenty to choose from at OTD. It may be stored out of sight, but there is a fine selection of corked Austrian, German, Italian, French and Spanish whites and reds on a list that’s heavy on Reislings because of their compatibility with Vietnamese food.

Vahlkamp keeps his promise that a glass of wine should cost about the same as a glass of beer. The $4 sauvignon blanc is only a quarter more than an 11 oz. bottle of Hoegaarden wheat beer from Belgium. But then OTD also pampers true beer aficionados with a diverse list of rare suds. The Flemmish Brasserie Dubuisson “Scaldis” strong ale (24-proof) costs $27 for a 25.4 oz bottle.

Sorry, but there’s no beer on tap.