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Extortionate wine list at Manresa

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I had a fairly sublime meal the other night at Manresa in Los Gatos, but was put off big-time by the wine list, which, if memory serves, includes not a single red for less than $80. When I mentioned to the sommelier that forcing the customer to spend lavishly on wine might not be setting the right tone, he said all the wines were chosen to go with the food, blah blah blah, all of which I'm sure is true, but doesn't really address the issue. I mean, am I alone here in thinking this sort of ridiculous? I've eaten at many super-upscale restaurants in my time, and never have I encountered a wine list with such a punitive structure. I felt like I was being politely mugged.

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  1. how much is corkage?

    4 Replies
    1. re: cedichou

      Their website says corkage is $30 for the first bottle and $50 for each additional bottle. Their wines by the glass are pretty pricey too. I remember the ones we got were probably on the low end at around $15/glass. I just assume that all restaurants in this genre have higher wine markups.

      1. re: Carb Lover

        Nope. Manresa's wine list doesn't appear to be online, so I can't comment on it. But, if the prices are as reported, they're incredibly high. Well, high as a starting point for the low end of a list...the wines themselves may be fairly priced.

        Jardiniere, for example, has glasses at $9, half bottles starting at $22 and many 750ml bottles in the $40-60 range.

        Quince's list isn't online either but I recall price ranges similar to Jardiniere.

        1. re: Carb Lover

          It also says they'll waive corkage for each bottle purchased off the list.

        2. re: cedichou

          Corkage is actually $30 for the 1st bottle, $50 for each subsequent bottle, with one bottle free for every bottle purchased off the list. I went to Manresa last Saturday night -- http://www.chowhound.com/topics/403806 -- and brought in two bottles, bought two bottles, and no corkage was charged.

        3. I felt the same way at 5th Floor while under Rajat Parr's leadership (not sure if it has changed under new sommelier). I felt cheap by ordering the least expensive wine for $60 some dollars. I go out to eat several times a week and feel very lucky with most wine programs in the bay area, but there are a few restaurants who feel they can charge $80 as a minimum. Many times the best food wines (with appropriate acidity) are old world wines which could easily be offered for under $50.

          1. r
            Robert Lauriston

            Do you have any examples? It's not clear whether the high prices are due to their selecting only expensive wines or to marking up more than the standard 3X wholesale.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I'm not sure that's relevant, since neither is acceptable (although excessive markup feels like more of a rip-off).

              If a sommelier isn't knowledgeable or diligent enough to source wines that are appropriate to go with the food for under $80 a bottle s/he's not qualified for the job.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                The mark-ups are high, Robert. The mark-ups on some wines may be less -- on a percentage basis -- than others, but that only means the best known names (e.g.: Dom Perignon) may be only slightly less ridiculous than others (e.g.: Krug).

                That said, 1996 Drappier Carte d'Or is available at full retail for $75, but you can find it for less. Nonetheless, that means the California wholesale is $50/btl. It's $215 on the list.

                1. re: zin1953

                  Ouch. That's gross. Cheaper to pay the steep corkage.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    It is indeed.

                    FWIW, I emailed the general manager about it -- no response yet.

              2. $80 being the lowest priced red on a wine list is inordinate for any restaurant IMO. I can understand a restaurant having its wine program in correlation with a particular region, wine style, or other food-driven reasons. But I find it statistically impossible that it just so happens that a restaurant’s particular cuisine correlates with “more expensive” wine.
                A rule that I follow is to shy away from pairing staggering and/or complex wines with complex cuisine. In this way the complexities aren’t challenging one another (and the glories of one can really be focused on).
                Note: I do not have access to Manresa’s wine list so my basic assumption is that at $80 min for a bottle of red the list is populated with impressive/staggering selections. If this is not true then I’m completely confounded by the prices.
                I haven’t visited Manresa but I’ve read the menu and I think that we can agree that the food is more complex (and at those prices it better be). Therefore, I think that the option of choosing a simpler (and cheaper) wine at least should be made available (e.g. Marcillac, Madiran or other South-West French wines).

                1. It does make the paired tastings look like a good deal by comparison- $52 for 4 courses and $80 for the extensive tasting menu

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Navin R Johnson

                    Isn't that per person though? I generally share a bottle so it still cuts that same to my observation.

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      Yes- but if you compare the $80 least expensive red to a flight of tasting pours that will easily top an entire bottle in volume and comes from bottles probably costing on average at least $80 if not more then it becomes the "bargin". At least that's how I rationalize $80 wine flights to myself :)

                      1. re: Navin R Johnson

                        If for the 4 course option they are providing a 6 ounce pour per course then it makes sense (6oz x 4 = 24oz [or approximately 750ml]). But I’m willing to bet that it’s probably closer to a 3 ounce pour per course which would put you at around $104 prorated for an entire bottle (OUCH!).

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          My bf and I shared a wine pairing at Manresa last month, and the pours were between 3 and 4 oz each.

                  2. I've always been a firm believer in "you get what you pay for". Luxury on a limited budget is a concept I've yet to grasp.

                    In all fairness to Manresa, they do offer wine by the glass for budget conscious types.

                    I don't feel $80 for a bottle of wine is at all out of line with what is arguably the best food in the nation (next to TFL and Per Se).

                    There's plenty of other restaurants you can go to that will be happy to sell you a bottle of KJ or RM, if that's your taste. But to pair them with this cuisine would be an insult.

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: RonaldMcDonaldsFrenchLaundry

                      To suggest that there is on one hand “expensive/worthy” wine and then on the other there is KJ or RM, with nothing in between, is a truly self-indicting comment.

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        Well, considering the 3x wholesale markup, RM is going to be around $60 per bottle. So what we're debating is a $20 price range from $60 -$80. If $20 is a big budget concern for you, you probably need to consider eating somewhere less sophisticated.

                        1. re: RonaldMcDonaldsFrenchLaundry

                          The $20 might not be a big deal...but, then again, it may be for some people who save up for a meal like the one on offer at Manresa.

                          The problem for me is that the wine list is not on the website (though a sample menu with detailed prices for food is) so there is no way to know ahead of time what one is getting into. Other top flight restaurants in the Bay Area have wine lists that range much more in price. Certainly everyone who owns a restaurant is free to sell what they like and charge what they like...this would be a reason for me to choose another restaurant, though not because of the level of "sophistication."

                          1. re: RonaldMcDonaldsFrenchLaundry

                            This borders pretty close to attacking the poster. The problem is not trying to cram in luxury dining on a limited budget, but whether similar restaurants in the same class are pricing similarily. No matter how much money I might or might not have to throw around, I don't like being gouged by a restaurant whose prices are out of line.

                            I'm just as resentful of the taco vendor that charges twice the price of the other taco trucks in the nabe as I am the top-line restaurant that charges 5 times the retail price when others are charging 3 or 4 times that price.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Even 3X undiscounted retail is unusually high. Typical markup around here is 2X retail (3X wholesale). Anything over 2.5X retail seems like a ripoff to me.

                              1. re: rworange

                                The prices are high but I think Manresa is playing the averages. If you compare the price of a complete meal and wine (either pairing or 2-3 bottles split among 4-6), Manresa comes out okay in relative terms to their competitors.

                                Manresa's tasting menu is $125 and $80 for the wine pairing, i.e., $205+tip. Tasting menu for a party of 4, with 3 bottles at $80 each, you're talking $185+ tip.

                                The Dining Room at the Ritz would probably be a bit less but French Laundry will certainly be more (possibly even close to double). Given not everyone is a wine enthusiast, the pricing at Manresa could be seen as favorable to some.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Manresa's tasting menu is one of the most expensive in the area, so I don't see that they're doing nondrinkers any favors:

                                  French Laundry - $240 (incl. service charge)
                                  Michael Mina - $135
                                  Manresa - $125
                                  Dining Room at the Ritz - $120
                                  Coi - $115
                                  Aqua - $105

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Did you read what I wrote? Yes Manresa is expensive BUT I noted relative to competition (as you listed). When you compare a tasting meal and wine (multiple bottles or pairing) to French Laundry, it's going to be less but probably 20% more then the Dining Room.

                                    There was another thread about a recent trip to FL - the ended up spending $425 per on the tasting menu and wine. While certainly not cheap, Manresa would run $242 (meal, pairing and tip...but less for non-drinkers or light winers).

                                    Any way, when you're comparing expensive meals it's all convoluted, so you have to talk in relative terms.

                                    1. re: ML8000

                                      The French Laundry's in a class by itself as far as food prices.

                                      Manresa's food and wine prices both seem high compared with the rest of its competitors.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Have you been to FL or Manresa?

                                        I haven't been to Manresa but if luck holds out I'll go in a few months. From the reviews (formal or blogs) Manresa seems to be slotted below FL and above the rest and that seems to be reflected in the pricing.

                                      2. re: ML8000

                                        To heck with wine pairs and tasting menus . . .

                                        At Manresa, the "regular" four course meal is $88, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $52. The "Seasonal and Spontaneous" tasting menu (which we had last Saturday night) is $125, and was 12 courses! An optional wine pairing is $80 additional (we did not do this).

                                        The "regular" four course meal at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton (including the $10 supplement for the cheese course) is $84. The "Nine Course Tasting Menu" at the Ritz-Carlton is SF is $120

                                        The "regular" four course meal at Gary Danko is $77; for five courses, it's $92. (This is without any "supplementals.") The tasting menu is $92, with the optional wine pairing an extra $65.

                                        The "regular" four course meal at Cyrus in Healsburg is $80; for five courses, it's $92. (This is without any "supplementals.")

                                        Over at Michael Mina, the THREE course menu is $98! The tasting menu is $135, with an extra $85 for the optional wine pairing.

                                        No one is proclaiming the French Laundry is cheap, and -- yes -- things are relative.

                                        * * * * *

                                        I have always been able to find some bargains on the wine lists at Gary Danko, the Ritz, Cyrus -- even Michael Mina. I didn't find any at Manresa.

                                        (This doesn't mean there weren't any, merely that I didn't see any.)

                                        1. re: ML8000

                                          They also seemed to intentionally order the most expensive meal possible at FL. That's not really the issue. The question is whether it's a ripoff to not offer any reasonably priced wines--it's clear based on other comparable restaurants that it is possible to offer a bottle for $40 or $50 without shame.

                                          1. re: Windy

                                            Okay, the wine is expensive at Manresa.

                                            My point is that if you average everything together, the whole experience, meal, wine and tip it's well below FL and not that much more then Michael Minna and the Ritz, etc. Sure there's sticker shock but it's really not much different then going to AT&T and buying a $8 beer except you could probably go w/o the beer but if you're going to pop for a big meal you're going to want the wine.

                                            OR...Manresa is simply making more of their profit off beverage mark-up.

                                            1. re: ML8000

                                              I think the point of the original post is that the wine is overpriced at Manresa. No one's disputing their right to charge more for food that involves specialized ingredients or preparation.

                                              Most of us won't pay mini-bar prices, no matter what hotel we're staying in, nor should we. At a certain point, it doesn't matter if they're charging $8 for a bottle of water or only stocking expensive brands or only serving on gold plates with servers who trained in the royal ballet.

                                              It's fine that you personally don't mind a larger than typical markup. You're welcome to pay a lot if it doesn't bother you.

                                              1. re: Windy

                                                And just to close this conversation out I think that what has occured once again is that when a beloved resto (by some) like Manresa is given any criticism the knee jerk reaction (by those who love it) is to somehow justify or explain away the shortcoming. The wine's high but I'm sure that Manresa a fine resto otherwise.

                                                1. re: Chinon00

                                                  Well, I thought so . . .


                                                  But wine service, as well as wine prices, leave something to be diesired, it won't stop me from returning.

                                  2. re: RonaldMcDonaldsFrenchLaundry

                                    And I'm afraid to say that that is even further self-indicting language. The idea that luxury is directly tied to what price a resto sells its wine is a really poor basis to rely upon. Is the same wine with a 4X wholesale markup more sublime than the same wine with a 3X wholesale markup? What about a 5X?

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      Not to mention the conflation of price with sophistication in addition to luxury. The amount of the tab doesn't necessarily have anything to do with either in terms of food or wine.

                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                        Yes, sadly it reminds me of an exchange that I had recently with a young coworker who is new to food. I told him about a Champagne that I really enjoyed and that I found it yeasty, biscuity, etc. He then told me about a Champagne that he shared with his wife recently. He briefly described it as "costing $50".

                              2. What did you drink and what were the prices?

                                1. You were. As I said, and posted, elsewhere, I was at Manresa last weekend and thought the list was extremely high also.

                                  I also posted -- on "another network" (Parker's board) -- re: the wine service there. The food was fantastic, the level of knowledge by the wine staff, and the pricing of the wine list left a lot to be desired (IMHO).

                                  1. Manresa's wine prices are high, but "extortionate" is going a bit too far. I ate there last Thursday and bought two 1/2 bottles off the list, a 2002 Calera Jensen PN and a 2002 Jobard Meursault. The Calera was 2.4 times retail, and the Jobard was also about 2.5 times full retail. With two tasting menu dinners and two glasses of champagne, the total was $480 plus tip. Not cheap, but you get what you pay for, and this was worth every penny.

                                    1. That seems a bit rediculous. And this thread bears out that one should just BYO. However...

                                      IF it were the case that Manresa had, in addition to a great food reputation, the reputaion for having an extrodinary wine list with fair prices, I actually don't think it would be that big of a problem. For example, if the cheapest red on the list was $80, but that was for a very well regarded, rare $55-retail CA Pinot, it would be tough to complain: the restaurant charges a lot for the food becuase they want to provide the best possible experience -- similarly for the wine. It isn't necessarily how I would run a restaurant, but so long as they are up front about it,I don't really see how one could object -- it would be part of the Manresa experience that you drnk really good wine with your meal.

                                      That all said, that is obviously not the case here. And $80 would still be a bit high even for a restaurant like that -- I think $65 would be where a restaurant such as that would likely start its list.

                                      1. One good comprimise to this might be to bring your red and buy a white, as corkage is waived if you buy a bottle off the list. If there were some more reasonably priced whites and you would in effect be saving $30 by buying one then the total for wine could be pretty reasonable.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Navin R Johnson

                                          Again, corkage is waived on a one-for-one basis . . . bring two, buy one will result in one corkage fee.

                                        2. I want to add to something briefly mentioned in this thread. The Sommelier should be able to find some less expensive wines to round out the wine list. There are LOTS of good wines that could be sold in the $50/60 range at Manresa. Sure, they may need to price them at 2X retail intead of 2.5-3x but they would make up the difference in sales volume. The sommelier seems to be taking the easy way out and not doing his/her research by finding some 'bang-for-your-buck' wines that would still complement their food.

                                          On a side note, I paid $40 for the wine pairing at Chez TJ's and was quite dissappointed. I wish I had spent that $80 ($40x2ppl) on a bottle of my choosing or possibly done my own pairing by ordering wines by the glass.