Navigating Common Restaurant Wine Customs

Fact: Generally wines are marked up about three times wholesale, or twice retail. Hard-to-get cult wines or aged wines are often marked up more.

      Why: A good wine program entails storage, proper glassware, and employees, often sommeliers, who must taste, order, serve, and stock wines on a daily basis.

Fact: Half bottles or full bottles are a much better choice than wines by-the-glass.
      Why: Wines in half or full bottles are usually of better quality. They’re also pristine since they’re opened in your presence. Wines by-the-glass are expensive, relative to the cost of a half or full bottle.

Fact: Most restaurants charge $15 to $25 corkage to open and serve a wine you bring to the restaurant.
      Why: The restaurant provides the wine service. The charge also helps defray the loss of revenue when the diner does not order wine from the wine list.

Fact: Most restaurants don’t mind if you bring a special wine to dinner.

      Why: The bottle has meaning to you and will enhance your dining experience. In fairness, the diner should consider also ordering wine by-the-glass, a half bottle, or full bottle. In this case, restaurants often waive the corkage charge.

Fact: Obscure wines are often a good deal.

      Why: They’re chosen for a reason, either they compliment the menu, offer some interesting drinking, or good value. Because they’re obscure, the restaurant can’t mark them up as much.

Fact: Chardonnay is often overpriced.

      Why: It’s America’s favorite varietal and diners know the names of prominent producers so they will pay to play. Better to try other lesser known white varietals that are more value-priced and often more food friendly, such as pinot gris, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, albarino, vermentino, grenache blanc, etc.

Fact: White wines can be served too cold or placed in an ice bucket.

      Why: I have no idea. Cold dumbs the aromas and flavors of white wines. An ice bucket is needed only for Champagne or sparkling wine.

Fact: Some wine geeks bring their own stems to restaurants.

      Why: A number of restaurants do not have proper wine stems. They usually do not mind if you bring your own, but ask ahead. This practice is so geeky that I don’t do it personally, but there are situations where it’s acceptable.

Fact: Restaurants allow you to take home your unfinished wine.

      Why: Once you buy a bottle, it’s yours. If you don’t finish it, ask the server or sommelier to put a cork in it so you can enjoy the rest at home. Another option is to give the unfinished wine to the server or sommelier to enjoy. This will put you in good stead.

Fact: When a couple dines out, the wine list is usually given to the male because it’s expected that he’ll order the wine. In a group of diners, the wine list is usually put in the center of the table and the alpha male grabs it.

      Why: It’s puzzling because women actually buy more wine than men in this country, and often have excellent wine knowledge and experienced preferences. Courtesy should dictate that the man holding the list ask the woman (women), “Would you like me to choose the wine, or would you like to see the wine list?”

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