Can Restaurant Wine Markups Be Justified?

If you are like most people, you’ve probably complained that restaurants’ wine markups are too high. Why should I pay $75 or more for this bottle of wine when my local liquor store sells it for $25? And how do you know you’re getting your $75 worth?

From my perspective as a professional Sommelier, here are a few things you should know to evaluate a restaurant’s wine service.

1. Is there a Sommelier in the house? If so, did they come over to your table, recommended a wine, chat with you about wine and then open the bottle for you?

2. Were you given proper glassware? For example, if you ordered a Pinot Noir, was it served in the proper Burgundy glass or if you ordered a high end Cabernet Sauvignon, did you have large, Bordeaux style glasses? There is nothing worse than ordering a beautiful Cabernet and having it poured into a tiny wine glass.

3. Was the glassware clean and odour-free? Was it free of fingerprints and any residual detergent on the bowl of the glass as well as the base? Always smell the inside of your glass before your server pours your wine into it. If it smells musty, chances are the cloth used to clean the inside of your glass was used long past its prime. Ask for a new one.

4. Was your wine decanted? For me as a Sommelier, an essential part of service is to decant every bottle of red wine (sometimes white), giving a young wine some much need air to open up, but more importantly, chat to my guests about the wine, learn about their wine experiences and be able to share my wine knowledge.

5. A good restaurant will not question you if you say a wine is corked or faulted. They will simply bring you another bottle. I once had a guest order a $500 bottle of Burgundy that was faulted and replaced it without hesitation. Yes, it hurts the restaurant’s bottom line, but it’s not right that a guest drinks a bottle of faulted wine, whether it costs $20 or $2,000.

If your wine service hits these marks, then you’re getting precisely what you’re paying for. Sommeliers, proper glassware, decanters, training, etcetera, are things things that cost real money and should be considered in the price of wine.

What do you do if your favourite restaurant isn’t following these simple steps? You can always ask to bring your own wine (perhaps your own glassware, too) and pay the restaurant’s corkage fee. Otherwise, a restaurant can consult with a professional sommelier to learn more about wine service.

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One Response to Can Restaurant Wine Markups Be Justified?

  1. Jen Dahlin says:

    Hi Lorie,
    This is such an excellent post. I found it particular interesting information for my “Virtual Wine Bar”. Also, it was so great to meet you at the WBC12 Workshop even though we didn’t get to chat much. I love your site and will definitely be back ~ Cheers to you!
    Jen Dahlin

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