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May 19, 2009 06:32 PM

Alinea - corkage fee versus their wines

Hello. We are having dinner at Alinea in a few weeks and I was curious about their corkage policy and views on their wine list. We're from California and have a pretty decent wine collection and we tend to bring our own bottle and more than happily pay the corkage fee (restaurant gets their profit and we get a nicer bottle of wine for less $$). Alinea has me stumped given their incredibly unique menu. What are some thoughts? I'm considering the following:

1) going with a wine pairing option if they have one
2) bring a pinot noir (medium red should go with alot) and then buy glasses of white or sparkling as appropriate for the dishes
3) if no wine pairing then view on their wine list in general versus bringing your own.

Also, I'm curious about how restaurants view on people bringing wine and paying the corkage fee. Our other dinners are Table 52, Province and Primehouse. In California it's pretty much the norm to bring your own and pay the corkage given everyone is obsessed with wine and has their own collection. Not sure if it's the same view in the Midwest.


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  1. They do have wine pairings (standard and "upgraded" for an additional charge). The pairings are a good way to go given the uniqueness of the food and each individual course.

    However, if you're set on bringing your own wine, you really should call the restaurant to get their policy. If they do allow BYO, I'm sure they'd be happy to advise you on what to bring given what's on the current menu.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jesteinf

      I believe that Alinea does have a corkage policy but what is the use? I have a wine cellar but there was no way I could anticipate wines for 12 courses including fish, seafood, meats etc. Their wine pairings are excellent if not outstanding. When I was there my wife and I split one wine pairing and it was more than enough wine for the 2 of us. And should you opt for the grand tour with 24 courses good luck again with trying to match up your own wines. Their wine pairings are a wonderful part of this overall unbelievable experience. Don

      1. re: dlpens

        Thanks jesteinf and dlpens. That was kind of my thought but I always like to check as I didn't know if they did pairings and also some places are not overly thoughtful on their pairings. Given their unique menu, I'm glad to hear they take it seriously.

        1. re: teejaymoore

          Yeah, in my experience most 3 and 4 star restaurants in Chicago take their wine programs very seriously. You will pay a markup of course, but I have never had trouble finding suitable wine in the upper echelon of Chicago restaurant. I have on occasion encountered pushy upselling servers, but have ultimately never really had a problem with the wine I've ended up with.
          I love BYOB but would never do so at Alinea. If you are looking for a BYOB experience with that style of cuisine though you could try getting a table at Schwa (my advice would be not to leave a message, but just call during the afternoon until you get through to a live person - if you are flexible you might be able to get in).
          Particularly if you like old world wines, you will probably find many gems here that you might not come across on the west coast. IMO, we are really the best market in the country for imported wine other than NY.

    2. I've been several times and I have a wine cellar. Whether they have a corkage fee or not I have always gone with the wine pairing they offer. I love the option of taking my own wine but, as others have said, matching wine with the food is a crap shoot here. You never know what is going to come out of the kitchen and the courses nuances. I've been very please with their pairings.

      1. I agree it is difficult to bring you own wine. I wasn't overly impressed with the pairings a couple of years ago. Seemed like good wines and OK but not great matches to the food, but you were paying $200 for just over a bottle of wine, and the average retail price of the wine was about $30 / bottle. Now it seems the average wine in the pairing has been upgraded to the $45-$50 range, so it is a 4x markup. Although on the high end, it is not ridiculous given the number of wines and the caliber of the restaurant. Also, the wines (based on recollection) seem to be well chosen, and don't include a lot of oak pots or alcohol bombs.

        You could obviously save money by paying corkage, and the savings would be similar to other high end restaurants (anywhere from 50% to 75% depending on the wine and fee), but it would be more difficult to do a great job of matching wines to the food.

        I would doubt that many people actually use the corkage except for very expensive wines. Alinea is kind of like Las Vegas in that people's views of money change a lot when they go there.

        1. If you commit to Alinea then BYOB is more likely to detract from the experience. There's a lot of subtlety in his flavorings that are likely to be overpowered by the wrong choice of wine.

          1. Thanks all. I heard back from Alinea and they ask that people don't bring their own wine (sounds like they've changed their policy or you have to push). Agree that if there is ever a place to do the pairing this would be it or at least buy a bottle of red and white and have them suggest with courses.

            3 Replies
            1. re: teejaymoore

              While I wasn't a huge fan of the pairings in 2008, I think that your second idea sounds interesting and definitely something to keep in mind if/ever I return to Alinea (pocket book providing).

              1. re: teejaymoore

                My experience with the pairings was sensational and well worth the money. They are quite liberal with the pours and did not hesitate to offer refills if we fininshed a wine before we finished the course.

                1. re: Vinny Barbaresco

                  I'll add one more comment to mirror everyone else. I've been there twice and my wife and I split the upscale pairing and it was outstanding! Too many different and unique tastes to pick something from my cellar.