What do you consider a well priced wine list?
Often, I read restaurant reviews here and other places that use the phrase "well priced" to describe the wine offerings.
What do you guys consider well priced in terms of the percent mark-up?
I've only recently started ordering wine at restaurants so I don't have a good idea of what is standard, high, or good.
I would say "well-priced" generally means that wines in the $35-$90 category on the wine list are at no more than an 80% markup over retail prices. $90+ wines no more than a 65% markup over retail. This is not to be confused with "very well priced" which would be substantially less than that.
That said, I value selection greatly, so if a restaurant is going to give me a 300+ bottle list with lots of very good and hard-to-find wines, I'm much more comfortable paying close to double what I would at a retail store.
Alcohol (and therefore wine) occupies an unique position in the marketplace. It is heavily taxed, state laws concerning importation, sale, etc. vary greatly, and it is, for the most part in many ways, exempt from many of the laws that ensure that competition exists for other products.
I live in Montgomery County Maryland where the county is the only legal wholesaler. All of the stores and restaurants are required to buy their wine thru the county store. The county marks up the prices about 35% higher than the other wholesalers in the area. That is why it is sometimes possible to purchase a bottle of wine on a wine list in DC for less than it costs retail in MoCo, MD. In addition, the county store has stupid rules about what will be carried, how much you must buy, and when it will be delivered. For that reason, there are very few good, much less well priced wine lists in the county.
As I noted in a different thread on this board, wine markup is always a bone of contention, but you don't have to buy wine if you don't want to pay the price. The lower priced bottles tend to have the highest percentage markup, with higher priced bottles less so. But it costs a restaurant to have wine on hand, especially if they store it properly. I object when a restaurant marks up a wine that I can buy for $10 to $40, but then I probably wouldn't buy it in the first place. (You guys know I'm something of a wine snob.)
On the other hand, in DC there are lots of very good lists, and many of them are very well priced. Here in DC there is quite a bit of competition among restaurants, and for that reason, there are many places where you can buy wine that hasn't been marked up so outragously as to be obscene. Several that come to mind are:
Dino with lots of Italian bargains and all wines listed between $10 and $20 over what you'd pay at a retail store, regarless of the level (i.e., a 2005 Di Leonardo Grave del Friulia for $21 or a 1991 Ridge Monetbello for $225)
Tallula which offers more wines under $30 a bottle than any restaurant in the area (of course it has a wine store so that makes it easy)
Corduroy (absolutely wonderfully priced Burgandies like a 1999 Savigny Les Beaune, Dominique Laurent for $62)
Even Citronelle which has an expensive list with over 700 selections from around the world (with strengths in Burgundy and Bordeaux) but still more than 160 bottles priced $60 or less. (and a fantastic sommelier in Mark Slater) (However, whiner did have a bad experience there. I never have, but then again Andrew, while you are much more knowledgable about wine than I, I am much older and less likely to be taken as a newbie.) (He said with a grin and a hi to your better half.)
Others with well thought out and reasonably priced (if sometimes small) lists include Bistro Bis, Obelisk, Firefly, L'Auberge Chez François, and the Tabard Inn. And beleive it or not, Legal Sea Foods has a good, well priced list.
nice thing about living in calif is that 95% of restaurants are "byo" frriendly and i do take my own most of the time.
for me....fair price would be 2x for $20 and under wine at retail and 1.5-1.7x for $30-$50 retail bottles....as for top end wine $100+ i would like to see it at 1.5 -1.3 x above retail.
most of the restaurant's actual cost of the bottles are lower than what retail wine store cost from what i hear.
Please remember in a lot of instances, restaurants pay significantly more for a bottle of wine than a package store does. Package stores have the ability to buy quantity deals and in some states there is the four tier system where a restaurant has to buy their wine from a package store. This only adds to the price that a restaurant paid. So technically, we are not comparing apples to apples.
this argument goes round and round on here. restaurants may take advantage of inventory close-outs, direct import deals, special by the glass prices, etc., while stores can get deals on most of that as well as 20-30-50 case drops. comparing a retail price to a restaurant price is disingenuous at best, but many people insist.
different states have different tax structures. i live in mass., so obviously wine must be shipped from great distances. it drives me nuts when a vistor from california complains he can get "x" wine cheaper at home. uh, yeah. it came from down the road, not 3000 miles away and 3 distribution channels later.
one must also consider the level of dining. if a pizza joint is charging $12 a glass, that's a rip-off. at the ritz, that's cheap.
>>> this argument goes round and round on here. restaurants may take advantage of inventory close-outs, direct import deals, special by the glass prices, etc., while stores can get deals on most of that as well as 20-30-50 case drops. comparing a retail price to a restaurant price is disingenuous at best, but many people insist <<<<<
hotoynoodle, my 35+ years in the California wine industry leads me to respectfully but vigorously disagree with most of the above.
Keep in mind that MOST inventory close-outs are NOT something a restaurant is intersted in. Yes, there might be a deal or two on (e.g.) 2 cases, 9 blts. of Vosne-Romanée from Jadot, but who would be interested in 15 cases of 2002 Sauvignon Blanc at $36/case?
Keep in mind that MOST direct import deals range in size from a mixed parcel of 10 cases of DRC to a full container (1,000+ cases). Few restaurants want 10 cases of DRC, let along afford it. They can take advantage of some Pre-Arrival pricing through grey market wholesalers or, in cases like Beaujolais Nouveau, Pre-Arrival deals through "regular" wholesale companies -- but how much Nouveau are they really going to sell?
The ONLY example you use that I agree with is the "by-the-glass" specials that are available to on-sale license holders that are generally *not* available to retailers (e.g.: three cases of French Champagne at 20% discount IF it's poured by the glass). You are correct in that the retailer *may* be able to get a 20% discount ONLY -- if at all -- by ordering a substantially larger quantity.
Also, there are retailers that can quite easily take advantage of a 10- or 25-case Family Plan discount, whereas most retaurants do not order 10 or 25 cases on one invoice . . .
As chickstein quick accurately points out, there are some states where restaurants MUST buy from a package (retail) store.
* * * * *
And, finally, as Robert Lauriston points out -- I, too, live in Berkeley, CA. And 95% (or more) of what I buy not only comes from places a lot closer to Massachusettes (or, perhaps, "a lot further away from me than Boston is" is a betterway to phrase it).
Most of what I drink is French wine, followed by wines from Portugal, Spain, Austria, Italy, and New Zealand. It is true that Kermit Lynch and North Berkeley Imports are located just down the street, and most New Zealand wines come in through California-based importers, but a lot of it is routed through East Coast importers prior to, eventually, ending up in California: Louis/Dressner, Michael Skurnik, Kysela Pere et Fils, Robert Kacher, Neal Rosenthal, Langdon-Shiverick,
Jorge Ordoñez, and others . . . . all East Coast importers.
"hotoynoodle, my 35+ years in the California wine industry leads me to respectfully but vigorously disagree with most of the above."
and i base my opinion on 15 years as a wine buyer and sommelier in boston.
please note, i said restaurants *may* take advantage of such things. as a buyer, i do so as much as possible. (although most buyers cannot be bothered) i regularly commit to pre-arrival deals, through legitimate channels, because of the obvious value i can then offer to guests. some of my wholesalers have a "will hold" category, so i can commit to 10 or 15 cases but receive only 2 or 3 at a time. i'm personally acquainted with the importers you mention, and most of them offer truly incredible pricing on d.i. shipments, prefering to sell it *now*, rather than *later*.
what you drink isn't what most people drink. only about 30% of all wine consumed in the u.s. is imported. boston happens to be a huge market for bordeaux, burgundy and alsace (we are trimbach's leading market), but i would never extrapolate that to *everywhere.*
as i mentioned, i think it's very important to differentiate between markets.
Not trying to debate, but . . .
>>> i'm personally acquainted with the importers you mention, and most of them offer truly incredible pricing on d.i. shipments, prefering to sell it *now*, rather than *later*. <<<
But importers, with only a few exceptions, are not the wholesaler. I was an importer/wholesaler in California, but I had to sell my wines to United to sell it in Mass. It's therefore up to United to offer the deal; I cannot tell United what to sell my wines for.
The main reason why California wine is so expensive in MA is taxes, not transportation. The main reason why European wines are -- in many but not all cases (no pun intended) more expensive in MA is taxes.
You're quite right: it's VERY important to differentiate between markets. But that doesn't negate the points made by chickstein, Robert, or myself.
In PA and UT, it's the state.
And so on.
I'll second the "by-the-glass" discount as an advantage for restaurants, and maybe the only one, unless they're large enough for multi-case discounts.
As a single location retailer, with a tasting bar, I can sometimes get the restaurant pricing but there are now so many retailers doing tastings that a growing number of better wineries don't want to risk having their product appear on shelves at deep discounts. There are lots of retailers who take very short mark-ups on almost everything they buy, and the winery can only affect that by 'losing' the address of retailers who they feel hurt their market position. Ultimately, though, I tend to think that most wineries are only concerned when a high-profiler retailer sells their product at lower-than-market pricing. Although....... many wineries do watch Wine-Searcher, which has become the great size-leveler of the retail business.
And there are states where it is legal to advertise and sell a wine below cost and other states where that is illegal. On the East Coast when a distributor walks into a retail store, someone shows Mr. Distributor the latest ad from a west coast website. In the south, Mr. Distributor is shown the latest ad from a very popular East Coast chain.
And the people of TN would like to not pay a 28% surcharge on a bottle of wine in a restaurant.
Some of the laws are old and antiquated and really need to be changed.
Not a lot of chance for change given the power of the wholesale distributor lobby. Whatever helps them keep their maximum cut is guarded jealously. Wineries have developed some strength as a group, but retailers (probably due to concern about wholesaler retaliaton, I would guess) have been very low-key in the area of legal or legislative action. The Costco case (in Washington) was the jump-off point for the first serious retailers lobbying organization, the Specialty Wine Retailers Association.
The cost price issue is tougher, I think, because it gets at the very basics of our country's traditional laiisez-faire system. As a small retailer it would help me if everyone paid the same price, but I would still not be able to operate on the lower margins of a large competitor. Our best strategy is to compete where it helps us attract business and then layer on smaller production, harder-to-find product that the big guys can't bother with. That at least eliminates the super market and many of the big-box retailers as a factor. Luckily we are in a demographic where people appreciate and seek 'boutique' wine. On the internet I will always be head-to-head with whoever has the same wine.
There is no doubt the trade has changed from when I first entered the biz . . . but I'd keep in mind that everyone predicted the demise of the "mom-and-pop" retailer in California when the Fair Trade law was repealed. (Under Fair Trade, every item had a minimum retail price that was posted by the winery or wholesaler, below which it was illegal to sell, regardless of one's actual cost.) Everyone predicted there would be massive store closings as supermarkets would expand their offerings and cut prices, as Liquor Barn (the precursos to today's BevMo) discounted everything by the bottle (or can), etc., etc., etc.
Instead, there are still dozens of small specialty wine retailers, some of which have grown in size and impact, and Liquor Barn when bankrupt and closed its doors . . .
re: Robert Lauriston
Having been one of their corporate buyers for over a decade, it's easy!
We were fine (104 stores; $330 mil. in sales) as long as we were part of Safeway. When Safeway went private, thanks to KKR, they eventually sold off the Liquor Barn division to a company from the UK (Majestic Wine Warehouses, PLC), who were quite successful *there* but didn't have a clue how to do things here! Gross mismanagement, coupled with substantially overpaying for the company in the first place; junk-bond financing and ridiculously high salaries for the very top level (Chair, Pres., VP's) meant it went into bankruptcy in 13 months, and locked its doors a little over three years later.
It's not only the stores; a lot of the old LB people are now BevMo people.
In San Francisco, standard markup is 3X wholesale, which is equal to 2X full undicounted retail. Anything less than that, I'd consider a bargain, but I rarely see that. Anything over that, kind of a ripoff.
Given that some wine shops discount heavily, you can't judge restaurant markup by lowball retail prices.
As an alternative way of looking at it, IMO wine does not "bring more to the table" than food does.
So, the typical bill to the typical customer should have the wine charges LESS than the food charges, IMO.
You'll always have that customer who wants to splurge $500 on a great bordeaux to match a 75 dollar meal, but that's an exception.
In general, if the wine bill is less than the food bill, and the wines match the food and elevate the entire meal "to the next level", it's fairly priced IMO
re: Chicago Mike
not surprised to hear this opinion. it is a widely americanized approach to wine. we're one of the few cultures that will order wine as a cocktail, while most wine making cultures perceive wine and food going hand in hand, which is why it is sometimes absurd that we rate wines alone the way we do. if wine and food are partners, perhaps we should see them more as equals to elevate the entire experience of the meal. just my take.
because wolfgang is a fellow LA poster, here is another view:
we love chinese food. we either dislike the wine most chinese restaurants offer or they don't offer wine at all. it is not uncommon to see us with friends and family at a chinese restaurant in the SGV with bags of wine and boxes of stemware. sometimes we'll have a casual blind tasting, sometimes they're wine bargains, more often the wines are off the charts (life's too short to drink mediocre wine and eat mediocre food, right?).
not too long ago, we were 20 for a casual teochow chinese dinner. actually the dress was jeans, but the food was incredible: abalone with chesnuts, the finest peking duck, decadent short ribs, lobster, crab, et. al. many brought wine, all fantastic (cheval blanc, pichon, marcassin, krug, DP, etc.), then our friend wheeled in a dolly with boxes of stemware and a rubbermaid tub filled with ice, champagne, and white wine! all at no corkage. the best way to have wine.
not long ago there was a post about no/low corkage restaurants in LA:
I love it!
I'm always glad to hear when someone not only brings their own wine but also their own glasses, ice, etc...
Sometimes I'll even BYOC.... bring your own cheese, as it's not difficult to triangulate what food and wine you're having so why not just create your own cheese course :)
there's more to pure mark-up, than $$$. also consider the total investment a restaurant emphasizes on wine. you could have a decent mark on wine, but lousy wine glasses :(, subpar knowledge about the list, and service that consistently fills your glass to the rim.
i am happy to pay a healthy mark on wine for great and properly prepared and primed stems, appropriate decanters, and deep knowledge. for me, it's relative.
is the mark on wine at PROVIDENCE, higher than other restaurants? yes, but DREW and the entire staff understand how to respect fine wine.
ANGELINI, ALL' ANGELO, et al. seem to do it well some where in the middle.
i'm consistently wary of mark-ups in Vegas and at steakhouses, especially chain steakhouses. the best wine service in the nation i've received is at ALINEA, BABBO, and BLACKBERRY FARM. in the world, EL BULLI, ECHAURREN, LA PYRAMIDE, DUCASSE, TAN DIHN. all have high mark-ups on wine, i'm happy to pay.