You don't have to break the bank when ordering wine
During the past few weeks I have paid as much as $9.25 and as little as $2.75 for a glass of wine in a Rogue Valley restaurant.
Granted, the expensive wine was a delicious red while the inexpensive one was a cheap yet drinkable house white. But the gap illustrates the fact that wine prices in local restaurants do indeed vary widely.
Most of us have opened up a restaurant wine list for the first time and reacted with a not-so-silent "ouch!" Fortunately, that experience is balanced by other restaurateurs who price their wines fairly.
So, how can you avoid paying too much for wine in a restaurant?
My weekly dining column in Tempo ended seven years ago, but I still dine out almost every week, usually ordering wine, and I've kept a diary.
Restaurants charge more for wine than retail stores; they have to. Besides the wine itself, it costs them money to procure and maintain the serving glasses, plus the labor involved in pouring and serving it, and other costs.
But markups vary widely and not always on the most expensive wines. A house white for $4.75 a glass may seem reasonable at first. That's what I paid at a local eatery earlier this year, subsequently learning that what I drank was Franzia chardonnay. Franzia chardonnay is sold by the 5-liter box and can often be found in stores for $15 or less. I normally get four glasses out of a 750-milliliter bottle at home, so I figure a 5-liter box should pour just over 26 glasses. Divide $15 by 26 and you get about 58 cents per glass!
To find a better deal on wine in a restaurant, I suggest the following:
- Bone up on the retail prices of a variety of wines you enjoy. Look at supermarket and wine-shop shelves. Take notes. After a while, you will remember what various chardonnays, syrahs and the like cost, and you'll be able to compute the markup and decide whether you're getting a fair shake.
- If you are visiting a restaurant for the first time, try to get an advance look at the wine list. Some places put their lists online, although these are not always completely accurate. You could stop by in advance and ask to see the wine list. Another way is to go for lunch the first time and peek at the wine list.
- Compare by-the-glass and by-the-bottle prices. The bottle price is normally four times the cost of a glass, but not always. If a glass costs $5.75 and a bottle $18, you may want to go with a bottle and then brown-bag some of it home. But if a glass costs $5 and a bottle $21.50, go with a glass.
- Keep track of what you spend on wine at various restaurants. Last February, I paid $6.50 at The Jacksonville Inn for a glass of Valley View's Anna Maria chardonnay — a good price considering a bottle retails for about $22. Later in the year, I paid $7 at Pomodori and $7.50 at McGrath's for the same wine — more money but not out of line.
- Consider bringing your own wine. Most restaurants allow this if they're already licensed to serve wine, but you should ask for permission first and make sure the wine isn't one already on their wine list. Most charge a corkage fee, but sometimes it's quite reasonable. Some places waive the fee on certain nights of the week. Bringing your own works especially well if you're dining at a mom-and-pop restaurant that perhaps cannot afford to stock many wines.
I took a bottle of Duck Pond chardonnay to dinner at India Palace in Medford recently to go with the chef's wonderful salmon curry. The wine cost me $7.99, and the corkage fee was just $4, for a total of $11.99 — hard to beat. If you bring your own wine, your check will be lower because it includes only the corkage fee, not the wine. And you don't have to pay a gratuity on the wine itself because you bought it elsewhere.
Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com.