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At The Sitting Room on Lower Queen Anne, customers can sample a Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2001 (a French white) or a glass of Capçanes Tarragona 2000 (a Spanish red).
Comfort by the Glass
A few good places to slip in and sip up, without losing your shirt

PART OF THE JOY of an urban lifestyle is having fun places to hang out — communal living rooms. The Puget Sound region has its share and more of welcoming coffee houses. But where do you go for a glass of good wine, in a cozy room, at a decent price?

Sadly, dedicated wine bars have not had a good track record here. They all seem to fall on the sword of economics. It's just darn difficult to create a viable business based solely on wine and snacks. Many upscale, white-tablecloth restaurants offer good selections of wine by the glass. But they are rarely bargains. For many restaurants, their biggest profits come from beverage sales, and wines by the glass offer irresistible opportunities to up those margins.

Rare is the restaurant that does not recoup the price it paid for the bottle when it sells the first glass — a fact increasingly noted by consumers. A recent study by the Wine Market Council found that half the wine drinkers surveyed thought they could not find fine wine at a reasonable price by the glass in a restaurant — any restaurant.

The signs of change are in the air. As wholesale prices for fine wines are dropping, retail charges, including some by-the-glass programs, are beginning to follow. But finding a good price is just the beginning. What dedicated bistro boppers want are intimate, congenial rooms, family-run in feeling if not in fact, with menus promising home-cooked flavors and wines by the glass selected to match.

Extra credit for good stemware, knowledgeable servers, a warm welcome and pure creativity. Here are three Seattle places already answering the call:

La Spiga
1401 Broadway
This lovely osteria on the corner of Broadway and Union is a little slice of Emilia-Romagna, Italy's culinary heartland. In fact, the owners built the bar in Italy and had it shipped over; now that's authentic. A special "Wines By the Glass" list is updated weekly, and owner Pietro Borghesi finds particular pleasure introducing customers to such delights as a sparkling rosé from Franciacorta ($7.50) and a spicy Gemola Vignalta ($10). Most of his wines sell for $5 to $7 for a five-ounce glass, and among the dozen or so selections are well-chosen wines from Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto.

Borghesi puts a lot of effort into the program, charges reasonable prices and offers especially good value on his premium pours, which are priced at just about double his cost (most restaurants charge triple or more their cost per bottle). He offers Spiegelau stemware (be sure to request it), which he washes himself by hand. "We're trying to focus on lower-cost wines of quality," Borghesi explains, adding "if I can buy well, I try to give it back to my customer."

Ovio Bistro
3247 California Ave. S.W.
Ovio is a recent addition to West Seattle's rapidly improving bistro/pub scene (the word ovio is some sort of a play on egg, and stacked upright it reads like a martini glass). Owners Shing and Ellie Chinn have worked together and separately at Waterfront, El Gaucho, Wild Ginger and Ballard's Market Street Grill, and this new venture is already solid in the food and ambiance departments. But wait ... Check out the bar. Name your poison, they've got it covered, from ports to single malts to boutique whiskeys, cognacs and liqueurs.

The wine list is a one-page Disney World of bottles from the Pacific Northwest, California, France, Italy, Germany and Australia. Mixed throughout are 14 or 15 wines by the glass, ranging in price from $5 to $6. Now that's my kind of range — especially when the generous pours come in elegant, wine-friendly stemware.

We tapped into a Rosenblum Vintners Cuvée XXIV Zinfandel ($5) and a thoroughly excellent randall harris 2000 Merlot ($5), which put far more expensive merlots to shame. The menu offers plenty of hearty appetizers in portions that are more than generous, and the bottle prices of the wines are equally compelling, with many fine choices under $25.

The Sitting Room
108 W. Roy St.
Just down the block from "On The Boards" on lower Queen Anne, this little jewel of a place is the brainchild of Michael Uetz and Myriam Guillemin. She's French, he's a self-professed café lover who wanted to bring a slice of the café lifestyle back home after an extended visit to France. The Sitting Room is lit like a bat cave, with a romantic interior that scrambles together plush chairs, comfy sofas and intimate two-tops. There's a good-sized bar where Myriam holds sway, and an excellent assortment of Euro beers, lambic ales and ciders.

Over on the wine side, the choices are short and engaging; a half dozen or so whites, an equal number of reds, and carafes of the house pours. Everything costs $6 or $7, and samples are yours for the asking if you aren't quite certain what you are in the mood for.

I sampled a nicely aged, woody 1995 Palacio del Conde Valencia Gran Reserva ($6.50), and a spicy Capçanes 2000 Tarragona ($7) before settling on a 1999 Coppo Barbera d'Asti ($7). Glassware is good, not great, and bottle prices exactly four times the cost of a glass — fair enough.

The Sitting Room has a modest menu of perfect wine accompaniments such as cheese plates, bruschetta, salads and panini. Live music would seem to be the only missing ingredient (where's that strolling accordion player when you need him?) in order to transport even the most winter-weary among us to a soul-warming rendezvous in Paris.

Paul Gregutt is a freelance writer who regularly appears on the Wine pages of The Times' Wednesday Food section. His e-mail address is Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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