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Jun 27, 2007 02:38 PM

How expensive is the wine at French Laundry?

(I tried posting this question a moment ago, but I don't see it showing up -- my apologies if anyone reads this twice.)

So I'm going to French Laundry for dinner this Saturday, and I'm wondering if anyone knows:

1. The price ranges for a bottle of wine (low, average, don't really need to know high but I am curious)

2. The price ranges for half bottles of wine (presumably 1/2 of above?)

3. The price ranges for glasses of wine.

Also, do you have to use a sommelier, and if so, is the tip separate from the dinner gratuity?


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  1. Rough idea for you on the wine, low end for full bottles will by around $100. There may be some exceptions but set your expectations at $100 minimum.

    For half bottles around $50.

    Not sure about wine by the glass but I would suspect around $15 on the low end.

    The sommelier will come standard and gratuity is included on your tab and split among the hoard of people. You can bump the gratuity if you feel like it but its not expected. I think the gratuity is around 20%.

    6 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        My thoughts:

        * the service charge is added in to your bill automatically -- no need to tip server or sommelier unless you make special effort to single them out.

        * wine is very expensive (eg. 150% ++ over retail). I was surprised that there are no wine pairings with the courses.

        * I suggest you set your own budget for wine ($100, 200, etc) for the table and tell the sommelier your price range and your wine preferences. For example, you could say: " x$ total for the table, we like White Burgundies and Spanish reds." or "we'd like to start with a glass of champagne and follow with California chardonnay and pinot noir." I have found that the sommeliers love this kind of guidance -- they are experts and don't want to guess your price range and tastes.

        Bottom line: the wine list is very long, very comprehensive and very expensive. Enjoy reading it --- but set your own price range and direction.

        1. re: cortez

          I like your thinking, Cortez. What I'm trying to figure out is what budget to set. There will be three of us -- perhaps four if my smart, successful and good looking male friend can find someone to join me and my girlfriend -- and so I just don't know how much we're going to end up spending, er, drinking.

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          My understanding is that the meal is $240, gratuity included. So do I understand that, if we order wine, there is a service charge of 19% (or 20%) added to the cost of the wine?

          1. re: bjr26

            No, the 19% gratuity that is part of the meal covers the wine gratuity. There is not an added 19% wine gratuity.

            Also if you are looking for a 4th, I can make myself available ;-)

            1. re: Scott M

              Thanks for the update, Scott, and the offer of availability. I think if I'm going to play matchmaker for my friend, however, I should probably find someone of the right gender! (Kidding, of course.)

      2. If you have to ask... ;-)

        I also believe corkage is $50/bottle (call to double-check). Given their wine pricing, you may find this an attractive option.

        2 Replies
        1. re: whiner

          it's $50/bottle PLUS it can't be on their wine list

          1. re: capriana94555

            I've been told by my friend who eats there fairly often -- the aforementioned cute and funny single guy -- that it's up to $75.

        2. In my scan over their wine list, I saw a $2000 half-bottle. Don't remember exactly what it was - a Margeaux or a Pauliac or such.

          TFL is not an ordinary restaurant. You won't see a reasonably priced australian shiraz. You will see wines they've had bottled especially for them, from particular parts of particular vinyards (especially in half-bottles). You have no way to judge the quality of this wine, as you can only get it there.

          Since service is included, your best bet is to roll with the experience and chat with whoever might come near your table, without fear of having to tip them.

          For two people, we got two half-bottles. We chose/were recommended bottles in the $100 range, and received excellent recommendations. The second bottle was highly memorable, complemented the meal excellently - worth every penny. Instead of saying "we like white burgundies", I would suggest a tactic where you talk about the tastes and sensations you'd like on a particular evening. Like: looking at the menu, we're thinking something light and spicy, but also on the sweet side, blah blah.

          Although you might feel pretentions and strange, talking about the experience you want is better than talking about regions, as it gives your server a much better idea of what will suit your mood.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bbulkow

            I wish I had such refined interests, bbulkow. The reality is, the experience I want is "To drink throughout the meal without suffering cardiac arrest when the bill arrives."

            1. re: bjr26

              Your response made me laugh out loud. I totally and completely understand your trepidation. Maybe cute funny frequent TFL diner can help steer the way? Or did he suggest you do it-- in that cute funny way he has?

              Either way, best of luck and enjoy every morsel and drop!

              1. re: bjr26

                "To drink throughout the meal without suffering cardiac arrest when the bill arrives."

                Ya know, just tell them that.

                A class restaurant ... and even though FL is not my favorite ... FL is a class restaurant ... dosn't have a problem with that.

                They will work with you. I mean, who the heck are you trying ot impress? Just have a good time. Turn it over to the FL and tell them your expecations.

            2. A word to the wise: watch the bottled water, which adds up fast.

              6 Replies
              1. re: a_and_w

                I think the most recent price increase added water and coffee to the package.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Good to know -- that was the one downer in an otherwise delightful experience.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I would hope that $230 gets you water and coffee! Thanks.

                  2. re: a_and_w

                    They tell you from the beginning that the bottled water is complimentary; they then ask you if you want still or sparkling. We opted for still - I forget the brand, but it was mineral water from England. Tasted great, in that it didn't have any mineral, metal or aftertaste. Went through at least 3 bottles of it.

                    Also, after mentioning to the waiter that neither DH or I drank alcohol, we had non-alcoholic beverages "paired" with some of the dishes, and started off the meal with a sparkling apple cider (non-alcoholic). We were not charged for any of this (and it's $240, not $230). Nice not to be nickel and dimed; I think Thomas Keller and his style are very classy.

                    1. re: Cindy

                      That definitely wasn't our experience a couple of years ago. One of our group did the non-alcoholic pairings, which I thought was very cool, though I seem to recall we were charged for that, as well. I'm glad they've changed their policy.

                      1. re: a_and_w

                        bjr: I'd go with a $300 budget for 3. That way, the hurt happens before your arrive rather than after the bill. $300 could get you:
                        * glass of Rose champagne to start $50 total
                        * half bottle of white (go with white Burgundy) $100 total
                        * bottle of red (probably not French. Betting on Spain, Australia, Argentina, etc.): $150 total

                        Good news: the wines will be expertly selected and wonderful.
                        Bad news: top Bordeaux and Burgundies are out of the question.


                        Let us know how it goes.

                  3. First off, thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment and reply to my post. The information was very helpful and reassuring.

                    (Yes, yes, but how much did you end up spending on wine?)

                    Answer: $316 for four of us.

                    We started with a Sauvignon Blanc, Dog Patch, that was an incredibly reasonable $50. It's even more reasonable if you buy it from a wine shop -- I think it retails for $17 -- and I recommend you do so right away. A very pleasant, crisp wine.

                    For our second bottle, we decided to stick with another white (to go with the lobster course and the fish course), this time one that was listed as "Highly Recommended" on the menu: the "A Maurice" Voignier from Walla Walla, Washington. Not only was this a "local" wine for me -- I'm originally from Seattle -- it was also priced at $65 a bottle. Score. The wine itself had definite hints of passion fruit or lychee. Paired very well with the fish.

                    Our third and final bottle was a red, chosen to pair with the pigeon ("squaw") course and the pork-belly course. We randomly selected the "Two Hands Lost Highway Project Stella's Garden Shiraz" which I think was $100, although it might have been $150. It was a solid choice -- not a wine to blow you away, but tasty with peppered accents. The most interesting thing about the wine may have been the label, which is done in the style of a movie poster and features a wrinkly dog wearing glasses. Our sommelier explained that the dog (now deceased) was not actually Australian, but actually hailed from "Philly" and drooled a lot.

                    At this point, having been so economical in our choices, I was ready to splurge and get an expensive (meaning $250) bottle of something. Our Belgian waiter, however -- surprisingly named "Bob" -- suggested that we share two glasses of a dessert wine who's name I didn't catch. I will say that Bob proceeded to pour four glasses that certainly didn't look as if they were split, so I guess we got on his good side (we peppered him with questions about FL throughout the evening, and he answered everyone, and even posed some of his own -- did you know that FL goes through 57 lbs of foie gras per week?)

                    Since dessert at FL actually lasts for four courses, including two that aren't on the menu, we ended up ordering another round of drinks by the glass -- a Muscat that everyone raved about and a port-like wine that I thought was fantastic. Again, I don't know the names or the prices, but harnassing the power of substraction they must have cost around $25 per glass.

                    So, there you have it. After the meal, we agreed that we should have ordered one more bottle of red before moving to the dessert wines, but we were all pleasantly intoxicated -- as much from the food and experience as the alcohol, I suspect -- by the time we walked out. And having spent half as much I thought I would, I even splurged on a French Laundry cigar! (Price: $10.)

                    Other items of note:
                    -- The corkage fee is $50, as "whiner" accurately reported
                    -- The gratuity is included in the price
                    -- The sparkling and still water was included in the $240 price
                    -- If you ask nicely, they'll take you into the kitchen and let you meet the chef

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: bjr26

                      There's no service charge on the wine, is that correct?

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Correct, Robert, there is no service charge on the wine -- if you pay $80 for a bottle, that's all you have to pay. Our charmingly simple bill listed charges for Food, Wine, and Tax. Of course, your credit card slip does have an entry for "additional tip" -- we left $40 for Bob.