The high price of restaurant wines

The cost of wine in a restaurant, whether an intimate dinner for two or a celebratory gathering of friends, can more than double the final bill and may determine if wine is ordered with the meal..

Last time we met I talked about how a recent Gallup poll indicated Americans who drink alcohol prefer beer over wine. And that the 30 percent of the poll respondents who preferred wine was wine’s lowest rating since the early 1990s, well before the craft beer industry boomed.

I heard plenty about that from readers saying Gallup needs to recheck its figures.

State viticulturist Horst Caspari was quick to remind me that 2016, for the 24th consecutive year, wine consumption in American again reached a record level.

And several readers reminded me that increasingly lower DUI levels make it difficult to have even one glass of wine in a restaurant without worrying if you’re going to get pulled over on the way home.

But the story wasn’t about a drop in wine sales; it was about how Americans today have so many other choices that wine isn’t always the first choice.

A couple of readers wrote to say that while they haven’t stopped drinking wine or going to restaurants, they rarely do the two together.

The decision to drink less in restaurants has many factors (see the DUI note above) but a leading complaint is what some wine lovers see as “exorbitant” price mark-ups, commonly two and a half to three times or more the wholesale cost of the bottle (in stores, the markup is around one and a half times wholesale).

“It is more out of value for the money spent and the principle as I mentioned,” wrote Tom Kelley of Grand Junction, who said he feels “scalped financially” when buying wine in a restaurant. “When is enough, enough?”

I empathize with his angst and, having worked in restaurants, I know there are many factors that go into wine pricing. Of course, having a captive audience in a state that doesn’t allow diners to bring their own bottles plays a big part in what to charge for wine.

For example, last week a friend and I ate downtown (we walked) and enjoyed a delightful Marchesa 2016 Gavi DOCG for $35, which retails for around $13-$15.

I thought the price a bit high (that’s about three to four times the estimated wholesale price) and it close to doubled our final bill (which Mr. Kelley addressed above) but we figured it was somewhat balanced by the quality of food, the service and the staff’s friendly welcome.

We each had a glass and took the remaining half-bottle home (a topic of future discussion).

How much do you tip for wine?

That was a great question came out of last week’s post when a reader asked if the final tip should include the wine.

“All (the server) did was open the bottle and pour two glasses and I wonder if that’s worth the 15-20 percent I normally tip?” the reader asked (who asked not to have her name used).

This is a real hot-button issue, I’ve read many an argument for and against tipping the full 15 percent (or whatever) for the wine, and there’s no definite answer.

One argument — that the wine already is marked up 200-300 percent or more — doesn’t hold water when you realize everything is marked up, from the salmon to the free-range chicken to the “free” bread on the table.

I’ve had some people claim that 10-15 percent is plenty for the wine, which entails a bit of mathematical wizardry when figuring your final bill.

Why tip 15-20 percent on a $80 bottle of wine you could have enjoyed at home for $20?

First, remember you’re not at home. You’re dining at a restaurant that has to pay rent, taxes, employee insurance and wages — you get the picture.

Also, remember the wait staff (and, increasingly, the back-of-the-house) rely on tips, and stiffing the wait staff (which has no control over prices, anyway) just to make a statement isn’t a good way to cultivate a relationship with that restaurant.

So, enjoy the meal, drink water if you think the wine prices too high, and don’t forget the tip.


U.S. wine consumption good but lags way behind

The Wine Institutes says that in 2016, Americans consumed 949 million gallons of wine, enough for 2.94 gallons per resident. But while the U.S. may be the highest wine consuming country by volume, it’s only 55th by per capita consumption.

The tiny country of Andorra, on the border between Spain and France, leads the world in per capita consumption (think ski resorts and duty-free shopping).

According to the Wine Institute, in 2014 that country’s 69,000 residents swallowed a total of 3.9 million liters or about 76 bottles per person. Vatican City, Croatia, Portugal and France round out the top five.

I’d love to hear what you think. You can email me at the address below.

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