Before Lana Shekim does the week's shopping, she likes to stop off at the self-service place in her Washington neighborhood for a top-up. For Shekim, it wasn't the blackcurrant-redolent bouquet of the Zolo from Argentina or the pedigree of Chile's Almaviva 2005, made in the style of top-of-the-line Pauillacs from France's Bordeaux region, that drew her in on a late summer's evening
"The primary thing for me is, it's in the neighborhood, across the street from the supermarket, and it's easy," she told AFP as she inserted a green card with a microchip into a slot above one of three self-service units, each of which contains eight bottles of wine.
"I like the choices they have here and I like the ease of getting a glass of wine and either reading quietly on my own or connecting with people," she said, perusing the selection behind a glass window that ensures the wines are kept at perfect drinking temperature.
The green cards used to fill up at Ceviche are purchased from the bar's staff. Clients fill their card -- which is not unlike a telephone card or the electronic passes used by commuters on the Washington Metro -- with money, starting at as little as five dollars.
The card then becomes the property of the client, who can take it home, bring it back, add money to it, and, of course, use it to serve themselves wine.
Standing in front of the middle unit perusing the Spanish reds, Iranian-American Fred Bahrami was going through the same ritual: insert card into slot, choose wine, serve, drink, repeat.
"It's a different experience and it's always nice to have something new," he said as he pressed one of three buttons above the bottle of Llicorella Cellars Unio Priorat 2003 and watched as three ounces of the deep red granacha grape wine gushed from a metal spigot into his glass.
"It's also a nice gimick, like having an iPod. It's fun," he said.
The self-service system at Ceviche, which was developed by Italian company Enomatic, allows bottles to be kept for three weeks after opening, preserving the flavor and characteristics of the wine.
It achieves that by inserting the inert gas nitrogen into the bottle, removing oxygen to prevent oxidization.
Ceviche has never had the opportunity to fully test the system's preservation qualities because customers empty most bottles every two days or less. More expensive bottles last four to five days.
The Enomatic allows customers to serve themselves portions starting at one ounce -- roughly what you might be served by a sommelier to taste a wine -- and going up to a full, five-ounce glass.
The system of graduated dosages with proportional pricing makes even the most expensive wines, such as the 190-dollar-a-bottle Almaviva, accessible to all palates.
"Wines like that are not usually sold by the glass, because the restaurant would have to finish the entire bottle after it was opened. At 50 dollars a glass, that might be difficult," said Alejandro Umerez, an Argentinian economics student who works nights as Ceviche's manager.
"But this system makes them accessible because of the system that allows us to keep the wine for three weeks and also because you can sample wines in a one-ounce glass," bringing the price to within the range of most wallets.
One ounce of Almaviva -- a blend of the cabernet sauvignon, carmeniere and cabernet franc grapes -- cost 10 dollars; the same size serving of the Zolo cabernet sauvignon from Argentina cost 1.50 dollars.
Shekim had long left to go to the shops while Bahrami continued to explore the Enomatic and extol its virtues.
"You have all the wine options in front of you and you can try wines till you find one you like, whereas if you have a sommelier serve you, even if you're not 100 percent sure about the wine, you don't always send it back," he said.
And there's another positive aspect of serving oneself fine wines rather than being served, he pointed out.
"If you're on a date and your date expects you to know a bit about wine, a self-service wine bar can't show you up the way a wine waiter sometimes can," he laughed.