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Mar 7, 2010 04:20 PM

French vs. U.S. Wine prices..excessive markup?

During our splendid five day vacation, we had a great dinner at Chez Rene. As my wife drinks very little, I ordered a 1/2 bottle of a 2003 Chateau La Cardonne. It was 30 Euros/44 US.

Now, I did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday, and I know that markups of 100% (at least in the US) are not unusual.
Since I really enjoyed the wine, I Googled it when I got back today.

I can buy a 1/2 bottle for $12.99 from Ultimate Wine Shop. Full bottles are $22

With a retail exchange rate of about 1.4, 30 Euros is $42 US.

42 vs. basically 13.

What's wrong with this picture?

This is a markup of 320% more or less.

Did Chez Rene rip me off?

Having said that, we had a great meal, and the boeuf bourguinon was terrific. Better than the bb I had a Chez Dumonet three days later. Dumonet's had too much bacon in the sauce.

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  1. First, I think it isn't going to work to compare US retail charges to French restaurant prices, taxes, import duties etc. are going to distort the comparison. But that said wine mark-ups are generally 200 to 300% in most restaurants, and France is no exception, and in some ways better than other countries like the UK.

    Were you ripped off? Depends on your perspective, you probably paid about the same in Chez Rene as you would in any other French restaurant, so no on that count. The restaurant trade argue this mark-up covers the inventory costs of holding a large cellar, spoilage, glassware, staff costs etc. If you buy this argument, again, no you were not ripped off.

    However, one thing to beware of, 1/2 bottles are usually the worst value in restaurants and have higher mark-ups, the logic here is the overhead cost (glass, serving etc.) is just the same as a full bottle, but the turnover in the half bottles is lower than full ones.

    If you want better value head towards the top end of the list here mark-ups are a far lower percentage (although less of a lot is still a lot). Or buy a carafe of the house wine, in France it is often very good.

    1. I have some of this wine in my cave. I think I paid in France about the price you are getting in the States for the full bottle.

      Lately, I've noticed full bottles in this range going for about 2X the retail price in France at most normal places, but anything is possible. Next time go for the full bottle per Phil's suggestion. Drink half, stick a cork in it, and take the half bottle home. It will taste better tomorrow anyway.

      1. There is nothing wrong with the picture; you didn't get rip off. It was a fair price for the half bottle. And the current exchange rate is doing you no favor. In the US, 100% markup is rare and you are lucky to live in an area with that. In the San Francisco Bay Area, 300% is standard and higher for the least expensive wines and wines by the glass.

        1. I'm not aware of anywhere in the world where wine prices in restaurants compare favorably with the retail prices. As a wine professional, I can tell you that you'll always get a better bargain off a restaurant wine list if you choose from the top half of the list. The least expensive wines on the list are always marked up the most. And as for "by the glass" -- in US many restaurants charge the price of the bottle for the glass! Rip off? You bet! Especially with the many wine effective preservation systems available to them.

          I often travel alone in France, and have found generally good bargains in the house wines, especially in bistros. You can often choose a half-carafe.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ChefJune

            "I often travel alone in France, and have found generally good bargains in the house wines, especially in bistros. You can often choose a half-carafe."

            In addition, we have found that often when we have finished the carafe or even half-carafe and still have part of a course to finish, a waiter will often fill our glasses from a house carafe so that we don't "go thirsty". Almost always if we still have a cheese course to go.

            1. re: mangeur

              And what's even more civilised is that they often have 1/4 carafes, so if you are the only wine drinker for lunch, say, you can have a couple of glasses of decent wine for a good price - often just a few euros.

          2. As aformer dean at a culinary school, may I say that most restaurants do their pricing as follows: one part food costs, one part labor, one part overhead and profit. OK? So, go find a decent price for a bottle of good wine. Expect to pay in a restaurant one part for the bottle, one part for the labor and one part for the overhead and profit and don't be shocked when you do the math. C'est la vie!