Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Quick Rant About Restaurants & Wine

This weekend we are having dinner with some friends that we haven't been out with for awhile. I was hoping to have them to the house first, drink a little wine and then grab a bottle or two of the ones we all liked the best for our dinner out at a popular, local restaurant. This restaurant has a very extensive wine list, and their selection is filled with popular names like Miner, Joseph Phelps, Shafer, Antinori and Altesino among others. Each time I come to this restaurant, I mine their list for a good value of a good wine. The problem I have is that the wines are routinely marked up at least 2X retail, and almost 4X wholesale.

While this markup is good for the restaurant, it is not good for the patrons who appreciate and enjoy wines. After all, who is going to buy expensive wines on the list if not people who know wine and appreciate the quality of a finely crafted wine and are willing to pay high prices because they know what they are getting? And if they know wine, they know they DONT WANT TO PAY DOUBLE OR MORE.

So I called the restaurant to inquire if they have a corkage fee. See, I have a few bottles of Elizabeth Spencer Mt. Veeder Cab that I was going to pour, knowing that my mother is headed to Napa this week, and she would buy Wendy and I a six-pack to replace what we would be drinking. I also know that there is NO CHANCE that this wine is in the restaurant's cellar since it is only sold in the tasting room. The person on the phone had no idea what I was talking about when I asked what their CORKAGE POLICY was. For the uninitiated, a corkage policy is when a restaurant allows you to bring your own bottle of wine into the restaurant and they charge you a fee to allow you to do so. Corkage is commonly permitted when you bring a wine that is not on the restaurant's list, because why would they let you bring in a wine that you bought for $30 that they have on the list for $58? The next person I spoke with was the hostess, who confirmed my reservation and then haughtily told me that they have over 200 wines on their list and she was sure there was something to my liking.

So now I am torn between selecting a BYOB restaurant like Gianna's in Atlantic Highlands, owned by my friend, John Mandica and his wife, Georgie, where we regularly bring multiple bottles and wind up chatting wine with the other patrons of the restaurant. Or we could go to Table in Red Bank or any number of fine restaurants in the area who do not have a liquor license. We select these places because we love wine and fine food, but do not want to be overcharged for either.

Some restaurateurs are getting with the program and realize that if they combine good food with good wine values, guests will come more often and drink more high-quality wines with modest markups. See this article from The 30 Second Wine Advisor, a weblog about wines . ( Also, in Atlantic City, NJ you can visit the Tropicana Hotel & Resort's upscale restaurant, bar and shopping area called The Quarter, and have dinner at a number of restaurants including PF Chang's, Carmines, even The Palm steakhouse and bring a bottle from Vin100, a wine shop located in The Quarter with wines from around the world, all priced under $25! And they will charge you $10 per bottle on the 1st bottle only.

Hopefully these trends will spread and take off, because the wine lovers are getting the short end, and the producers are also, if they realize that their wines with reasonable prices appear out of reach in a restaurant and are not getting consumed by the people who might keep buying wine that they loved at a special night out.

Remember to keep asking your favorite restaurant with a liquor license what their corkage policy might have a few bucks left over for dessert!

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