How often, when enjoying an evening out, are you distracted by annoying wine issues? For us, a case in point came the other night when friends invited us to dinner at a restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. In these budget-conscious times, don’t we all want to believe we’re getting good value when eating out in both food and wine?
But that was hard at this restaurant, where the least expensive white wine on the list was a vidal blanc from the Finger Lakes at $42 and where I ended up choosing a sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley, Domaine de la Chaises’s 2010 Touraine, a wine I had enjoyed not long ago and reviewed here. On one hand, I was glad to see a wine on the list I was familiar with and had recommended, but I winced, then laughed in astonishment, when I saw the price. This very good (but hardly sensational) wine, available at retail for $13, was $48.
When the sommelier, an imposing young man who might have been an actor or model in another life, returned with our bottle, he announced rather ceremoniously in his baritone voice, “The 2009 Domaine de la Chaise.” I wanted to chuckle again. The formality -- and the price – were at odds with the way I thought of this wine, as a fresh and delightful sauvignon that would pair well with a variety of appetizers and lighter main courses, which it did on this evening. When I told the sommelier that I knew the retail price of this wine, he smiled knowingly but withheld comment.
He did, of course, make sure that our glasses were always topped off, even though (in our minds at least) we were certainly going to order a second bottle because we were enjoying it, despite the high price for a relatively cheap wine. And when we did, that brought the tab for two bottles of Domaine de la Chaise to $96. Which takes me once again to the issue of restaurant and wine economics and The Markup. I am keenly aware that restaurants make much of their profit from wine, and I have come to expect the price of wine in restaurants to be about three times retail, which would have put the Domaine de la Chaise at around $39 instead of $48 and would have made the selection more palatable (yes, $9 makes a difference to me).
It’s worth noting as well that the standard markup from wholesale to retail is 50 percent, which means that the cost of this wine to a store or a restaurant is under $10 – and probably even less depending on how many cases are ordered. So the markup (not necessarily the profit) on each bottle of the sauvignon blanc we ordered is around 400 percent, which seems excessive even by New York standards. (The least expensive red, by the way, was a Montepulicano d’Abruzzo from Italy at $44.)
I can’t help but think that if the markups came down a bit and a few more relatively inexpensive wines were offered at this and other restaurants, profit from wine would be the same or even greater. And most of us would feel at least a little more as though we were getting our money’s worth. What do you think? Please share your recent experiences and observations on wine in restaurants.