Restaurant Wine: Playing the Game (and Winning)

Budgeting for a meal out entails a lot more than just scouting prices for a nice bone-in ribeye. If you plan to add pre-meal cocktails and a nice bottle (or two) of wine, your liquid expenses could dwarf your food bill. Some restaurants are notorious for sticking it to consumers when it comes to wine, and it isn’t unusual in Las Vegas or New York to pay 300-400%+ of retail prices per bottle. There seems to be a direct correlation between the “status” perception of the restaurant and the pain you will feel at the wine pump.

Spending about 10 minutes thinking about your wine consumption while planning a night out can be the difference between a relaxed, enjoyable dinner and nervously adjusting your mental calculator all night. Here’s a quick guide to strategy.

Step 1: Get the restaurant’s current wine list. Frequently they do not do a great job keeping their websites updated, so make sure to check the vintages on the Sauvignon Blanc selection to judge whether it’s current. For example, in early 2008 if you see their Sauvignon Blancs tend to be from vintage 2006, the site has probably been updated in the past few months.

If the list is outdated, unavailable, or (be very afraid) doesn’t list bottle pricing, contact the restaurant and ask them to email or fax you a copy of the current list. If this is one of those 100 page lists and is not available by email, ask them to fax you the section you are most interested in, ie California Pinot Noir.
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