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Is it reasonable to expect good wine for $6 a glass? [moved from Manhattan board]

  • h

A new wine bar opened in my neighborhood (not Manhattan). It was lovely -- architecture, food, service, everything but the wine. We ordered several of the $6 and $7 glasses and to our surprise, they were uniformly awful. They just tasted like thin, harsh, bad cheap wine. The owner basically said he knew they weren't very good but that he couldn't afford to offer good wine for that price (and he wanted to have something inexpensive on the menu). We tried a $9 glass and it was better but just ok.

Fast forward to last night, when I went to Morrell's in rockefeller center. we ordered the cheapest glasses on the menu ($8) and they were utterly delicious. And that's got to be one of the most expensive locations in the city. I don't get it.

I want to like the little local joint in my neighborhood, and I'm also genuinely curious about how this stuff works. maybe an established place like morrell is able to order lots of great wine at a good price, or can count on volume or something. it's hard to believe that anyone would open a wine bar and get everything right but the wine, so i'm thinking maybe it's a lot tougher than it seems to pull off great wine by the glass at a decent price in this town. any thoughts from people in the business?

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  1. Most restaurants at least double up on the price of wine...some triple up. $6/glass = $48 bottle. Even if they are tripling up, there are lots and lots of great choices at $16.

    Personally, I would chalk it up to lack of knowledge.

    12 Replies
    1. re: vinouspleasure

      Sorry to be thick. Can you explain your math? I thought a bottle would get you about 5 5-ounce glasses (certainly 8 glasses would be quite small), giving you a $30 restaurant price bottle, or a $10 retail (assuming a 300% mark-up), and, well, utterly delicious $10 wine isn't so easy to come by. Yes, it's out there, but not too many restaurants go to the trouble to find it. Again, sorry if my math stinks; I blame the wine.
      Having said all that, I agree--this guy sounds unknowledgeable, which is unforgiveable enough in a wine bar, but also a bad business-man: why carry something you know isn't good? I sure wouldn't go back.

      1. re: jasmurph

        jasmurph,
        You fine vinouspleasure' math is flawed beyond comprehension. It is very difficult to find good wines by the glass for under 10.00 in major metro areas. the rents etc force a higer markup than in most suburbs.

        1. re: Winemark

          Not true. For example, last week I ate at NOPA, a popular new San Francisco restaurant. With the exception of one sparkling wine, all of their wine by the glass are under $10. We tried five and they were all good.

          Sparkling
          xarelo-macabeu-parellada cava nv avinyo 6.5
          Chardonnay Brut Zero "Valentino" Piedmont 1998 Mazoni 12
          Poulsard Rose Bugey Cerdon NV Renardat 8

          white & rose
          Hondarrabi Zuri-Beltza Getariako Txakolina 2005 Amestoi 6.5
          Pinot Blanc Nahe Anheuser 6.25
          Grechetto "Poggio Della Costa" Umbria 2005 Sergio Mottura 7
          Viognier-Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc Languedoc 2004 L'Hortus 6.75
          Chardonnay "Les Chenes" Saint-Veran 2004 J-P Auvigue 8
          Rose Cabernet Sauvignon "Rose It's Okay!" Napa 2005 Vinum 6.5

          red
          Pinot Noir "Red Label" Sonoma 2004 Roessler 9
          Monastrell Jumilla 2004 Juan Gil 6.5
          Blaufrankisch Burgenland 2005 Neckenmarkt 7
          Lagrein Alto Adige 2004 Thurnhoff 7.75
          Cinsault-Carignan-Syrah "Naick 3" Languedoc 2003 O'Loustal Blanc 8
          Sangiovese Grosso Rosso di Montalcino 2002 Casanuova della Cerbaie 8.5
          Syrah Washington State 2003 McCrea 9.75

          http://www.nopasf.com/wine.html

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            While you are correct on point I must defend myself by saying San Fransisco is the most wine concentric city in the nation so while rents are stupidly high I would expect aggressive pricing in that town

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Robert, you're going to make me cry. One of the things I miss most about SF is the ability to get a glass of wine for under $10 wherever I'm eating dinner. In LA, most glasses are well over $10, and when those glasses come with names like Gallo, Smoking Loon, and Kenwood I want to jump off a cliff.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                The wholesale prices in L.A. are surely about the same as in SF. Sounds like a business opportunity.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  yeap, they inflate these prices in NYC too. These glasses would run $8-$14 vs $6.5-$10. And given the retail bargains we can get here, you know they could charge less. Especially infuriating after drinking fantastic wines in Spain for 1.5-3.5 euros a glass (with sales tax included and tipping custom is much lower!!).

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    That's absolutely true about Spain. We can get good wine for 2 euros (about $2.50) a glass here and great wine for 3.5 euros a glass. But the entire restaurant business (and business economy in general) is structured differently here, with much lower profits expected.

                    There is also a lot more competition than in any US city and I believe that wineries also sell their wine at a low cost to many wine bars for promotional purposes. Many times, I drink a glass of Priorat or another high-end wine at a bar for about the same cost that it would retail for at a bodega (meaning that the glass costs the same as an equal fraction of the retail bottle).

                  2. re: Winemark

                    Two quick points:
                    1. I agree that it's hard to find good wines by the glass for under $10 in big cities. My point was that it would take a $10 bottle of wine with a 200% mark-up (surely reasonable, even with high rents) to offer a $6 glass of wine.
                    2. here are some restaurants in Manhattan that have at least one wine per glass for less than or equal to $10: Blue Hill, Wallse, wd-50, hearth, the modern, inoteca, and all the batali palces have quartinos (call it 1.666 glasses) for close to if not less than $10. It seems like it's mainly the 4 stars that refuse to entertain the propsect of a good glass of wine for less than $12.

                  3. re: jasmurph

                    Every restaurant has their own formula for marking up wines on the list and by-the-glass.

                    Traditional RETAIL markup was a 50 percent markup for a 33.3 percent profit (i.e.: if a bottle cost the retail store $10, it was marked up 50% and sold for $15; the $5 profit is 1/3 of the purchase price).

                    RESTAURANTS on the other hand would often double or even triple the retail price. It's largely a matter of what the traffic will bear -- some use a sliding scale with harder-to-get wines getting marked up more than more common wines, etc., etc., etc. When it comes to a by-the-glass "formula," some restaurants use a "bar markup" -- much higher than wine list markups -- others use a more "creative" formula.

                    Years ago, I was the wine buyer/bar manager for a small wine bar & restaurant in Santa Cruz, CA. Our "formula" was to charge a flat $5 over whatever the suggested retal price was for bottles off our wine list. (That $15 retail bottle above would be $20 on our list; a bottle that sold at retail for $50 would be $55 on our list, and so on.) The more expensive the bottle was, the "cheaper" is was on our list. As a result, we sold lots of high-end bottles.

                    To calculate our by-the-glass prices was simple. Bottles off the wine list are subject to sales tax, so we would take the wine list price and add tax to it. We poured four-ounce glasses, and so would get six 4 oz. glasses per bottle (a regular 750ml bottle being 25.4 ounces). So we would take the wine list price, add tax, and divide by five. Thus, if a bottle was -- let's say -- $35 on our list, we would add sales tax ($37.97), divide by five ($7.59) and round it up to the closest nickel. We'd sell that wine for $7.60.

                    That bottle would have cost us $20 (presuming no discounts). Off the list, we'd make $15 gross profit. Selling six glasses for $7.60 each, we'd make $25.60 in gross profit.

                    But our restaurant was the definite EXCEPTION to the standard rule-of-thumb.

                    1. re: zin1953

                      This is off the main topic but interesting to me. I spent a total of 30 years working in the retail/wholesale apparel trade (and selling to the country's largest traditional department stores). In your example, the 33.3% (percent gross profit) was always referred to as the 'mark-up'. It was only when I would get into discussions with people outside that trade that they used the same term to refer to the 50% added on to the cost. In academic texts, the 50% is generally referred to as 'mark-ON' (literally the amount added ON to the cost, as a% of the retail), though mark-on is not a term I ever heard in the trade.

                      Certainly not important to the discussion, but I'd be interested in how other people/trades use these terms. Likely needs to move to 'not about food' but this whole topic has used retail math so much that I thought it would be a better place to ask.

                      1. re: Midlife

                        It's an interesting thought, albeit perhaps a bit arcane. ;^)

                        "Mark-up" has the same origin, I'm sure, as "mark-on," and probably stems from something like "the amount you mark UP the price" (versus the amount added on to the price).

                        The only change I've noticed on the profit side I've noticed is that "profit margin" has, in more corporate circles anyway, been replaced by "beginning gross profit" (BGP). So, in theory, the 33% BG may -- after all costs (labor, rent, utilities, etc.) are deducted, may yield only 3-5 percent actual profit at the end of the day.

                2. Otto seems to be able to pull off great wine for not too much money, on top of it their wine glasses are incredible! They have quartinos for as low as 8$ and it is a bit more than a glass. I think they have the cheapest, and the best wine, in town...if you like Italian that is.

                  I heard about a restaurant in Montreal, a nice restaurant not a dive, who sells the wine glasses for a fifth of the price of the bottle. That means that if the bottle is 40$, the glass is 8$. I thought that was a great idea when I heard about it.

                  1. Turnover may be an issue. Obviously they want to be able to sell enough glasses to use up the bottle before it gets stale. Although this is more of an issue in less heavily-trafficked restaurants -- probably not usually a big problem for a lot of places in NYC given the usual volume of diners, unless they've got a lot of wines available by the glass, meaning that only a few customers order each glass on any given night. (Although if it IDs itself as a wine bar, then that's possible.) Thus, it's less of a problem for a place like Morrell's.

                    Also, wine and beer are extremely profitable and are seen as a good way for a restaurant to make up for its losses in other areas. But generally, yeah, I'd say you should at LEAST be able to get a glass of decent table wine for $6 or $7 and something really good for $9. But it requires some knowledge, and half-decent rates of turnover.

                    Yeah, restaurants frequently charge triple the store price for a bottle of wine.

                    Oh, and HHH, I think you should post a message to the applicable board (e.g. Outer Boroughs) telling people not to order the $6 or $7 glasses of wine at that particular place, if it's that bad. That sounds strange.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Ike

                      Just for the record, there usually isn't a specific relationship between what a drinking establishment and a retail establishment charges... We're all using the wholesale price as our base to work from, but most of us aren't looking to see what our list is retailing for, because it's not the same thing... glassware, staffing, furnishings etc... all factor in, plus retail businesses always sell the entire bottle, and they don't incur waste from opened bottles etc... it apples & oranges... A reasonable markup in a bar/restaurant will always be higher than a reasonable markup in a retail establishment, due to the added value...

                    2. If they need to hit a $6/glass price point, they need to work harder to find good values in that range.

                      1. hello, don't know manhattan wine stores well, but is the morrell's you refer to connected to the well-established, fairly prestigious retailer? I'd expect them to come up with a good 8 buck glass. I think anyone who gave it serious attention and time could find good bottles that retailed for $8-10 (less to a restaurant/bar) which would yield a decent margin at six a glass. Have you tried any of the wines imported by Eric Solomon in that price niche? cheers