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Approaching Wine at the French Laundry???

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Background Information: Hi! I am new to Chowhound and this is my first post so bear with me. My husband and I are visting the San Francisco area next week (April 21-25). We will be spending the first two nights in Yountville and the last two nights in SFO.

I was lucky enough to score reservations at the French Laundry on Thursday, April 22nd @ 6:00 and am thrilled. Although, I am very perplexed about the how to approach the wine part of the evening. My husbad and I enjoy many different wines, but are certainly not "experienced" in wine, as many seem to be in the Napa area.

I have viewed the wine list online, and to be perfectly honest, I don't know that I am familiar with many, if any, of the wines on the list. I also called the restaurant to inquire about a pairing, since no pairing information is listed on the website. I was told that they do a pairing, but since the menu changes everyday, the pairing changes as well and to expect a cost of around 250/pp for wine pairing.

Although the pairing seems inticing, I am not interest in spending 500 on wine. Ideally, I would like to stay in the 200-300 price range for the two of us.

Oh, and I have reasearched the other post on here about TFL, but it seems that the questions dealing with the wine at TFL are several years old.

The Questions:
1. Is 200-300 total a reasonable amount to spend on wine from TFL, meaning will we be able to drink throughout the meal reasonable wine?

2. Should I consider bringing my own wine and fork over the $50/bottle corkage?

3. Should I give the "captain" an amount that we would like to spend on wine and allow him/her to select for us?

4. Should I try to select wine upfront from the wine list? If this seems to be the best choice, how should I approach it seeing as I am unfamiliar with the majority of wines on the list?

Any and all help or suggestions are appreciated. Thanks in advance!

-----
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

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  1. I would chose door #3. The selection the best wine, in your price range, to go with the dinner is the job of the sommelier.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wolfe

      A 2nd on option #3. $200-$300 should be enough for two people. You won't save much on BYOB and you don't get the expert advice on pairing with the meal. No shame in setting a limit on the amount since you will be dropping major coin.

      #3 would also allow you the option of buying by the glass which allows flexibility w/o having to buy a whole bottle. 2 glasses of champagne, another 2 of something for the front end of the meal and maybe a full bottle or more glasses is doable.

    2. They also have a nice selection of half bottles so you can get some variety. I agree with others #3. Have a wonderful time.

      1. All agree on #3. The reason you don't recognize many of the wines is TFL has access in Napa valley - and around the world - which is unimaginable to mere mortals. Going there and not drinking the wines would be as beside the point as bringing your own salt.

        That being said, you really should consider option 5, just go with the pairings. Just think about how much $200 is really worth compared to the $800 you'll be putting down, and the rest of your stay there, and how much you might enjoy the pairings. They might consider allowing you to split a pairing, that is, the one of you who drinks orders it, and the one who sips, well, takes a sip.

        I believe Manresa has about the same price for their premium pairings, as does Le Bernardine in NYC (whose pairings were sublime).

        But, typically, a couple might get two half bottles over the course of the evening. When I was there last, that was $500, and we would have been better served by the pairings. You can certainly tell the staff your budget - clearly the right way to go. They're so warm and friendly there - they'll find you exactly the best wine for your budget.

        -----
        Manresa Restaurant
        320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

        1 Reply
        1. re: bbulkow

          All good advice. I've shared wine pairings at other restaurants and never had a problem. Some restaurants will even split the pours into two glasses, and I would be surprised if TFL wouldn't do that for you. Have a wonderful time, and don't forget to leave time before dinner to check out the gardens.

        2. "I would like to stay in the 200-300 price range for the two of us."
          Minus the corkage leaves you $150-$200 for one truly great bottle. A $150 - $200 shelf priced wine will be about $400 - $600+ on this list. You are not wine poor.

          2 Replies
          1. re: wew

            Another vote for #3 with an addition.
            * tell the sommelier your price ceiling for the meal
            * tell him of some wines you really enjoy (eg. white Burgundies; French Bordeaux , Champagne, Calif Cabs, Zins, etc etc) . That will give the sommelier an idea of your flavor palette, profile and preferences. ( The last and only time we went to FL, we gave our wine budget for 3 people ($300) and our likes: Rose Champagne to start; white Burgundy as the focus; red Tempranillo from Spain for the meat course. The sommelier mixed glasses of champagne; full bottle of white Burgundy and 1/2 bottle of Tempranillo within our budget.)

            With a definite budget and clear preferences, you will get wonderful recommendations!

            Have fun.

            1. re: cortez

              Yes to Option #3, and Cortez has added helpful tips.

          2. OK, I'm going to stray from the others. Option #2 is the best and here is my reason: I am a wine and food lover but I am unwilling to pay $100 + for a bottle of wine unless it is 2x better than a $50 bottle. The markup at TFL is outrageous. It is over 100% and that is ridiculous. They get away with it because of the comments from others who see themselves with few options. If enough of us bring our own wine and reject this pricing scheme, restaurants like TFL will come to their senses. And, in this economy with 12% unemployment, they need to get real. Bring your own, pay the corkage. Vote with our wallet.

            10 Replies
            1. re: tstrum

              I thought the wine was to complement the food. How does one do that if you don't know what your meal is beforehand?

              1. re: tstrum

                I do not find the mark up at FL outrageous. Am I to assume you never order wine at a restaurant? 100% is low, the normal in US is 2 to 3 over retail and many times more , possibly lower for very high end. FL has a wonderful wine list at reasonable prices, many of the wines are unavailable else where. It is expensive to store wine in proper conditions , which is only one of the expenses .

                1. re: tstrum

                  You know that nicely dressed person with the tastevin employed by the restaurant to aid in your selection is not a volunteer.
                  Sommelier

                  "Fine diners know that the perfect meal isn't just about the entrée; it's also about the glass of wine that accompanies each course. From the first taste of the cheese flight to the last bite of gelato, the right wine can elevate any meal to a new level. Of course, if you're like many people, you don't know if a Riesling is the best match for fresh tilapia or if it's a faux pas that will send the chef into tears.

                  Fear not. Sommeliers know everything about wines, from the vineyards they were pressed in to the best entrées to pair them with. They take courses and obtain certification to become bona fide experts on the subjects so you never have to look at a wine list with confusion in your eyes.
                  Salary: $28,000 for novice sommeliers and $80,000-$160,000 for certified Master Sommeliers."
                  This employee is there to enhance your experience.

                  1. re: tstrum

                    As at many establishments the markup is not uniform at TFL. If you study the list you are sure to find several bottles marked up much less and priced at only $5 to $30 over retail. So it would be foolish to bring in something similar and pay corkage. I've been throug this in recent weeks with two different friends who found "bargains" on the list.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      OK, don't get a mv Krug at the local store and take a loss. Instead, turn us loose in a major city and we can do better with the op's budget than you or I could do on this list. $150 - $250 will get a major world wine. This is no less than the truth.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Which bargains did they find? Skimming the list, of the wines available retail, I can't find any where you couldn't save money by buying retail and paying the corkage.

                        Though personally if I were splurging $1200 (including the necessary walking-distance hotel) on dinner for two, I'd spend the extra to see what the sommelier could do.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I seem to have deleted those emails from my inbox. Thought I remembered one mentioned was Movia's bianco but the pricing doesn't work out that way looking at the list and I don't recall the others.

                      2. re: tstrum

                        A 100% markup is low.

                        A $100 bottle being twice as good as a $50 bottle is completely subjective.

                        As someone else mentioned, how can you bring your own wine if you don't know what you'll be eating?

                        The $50 corkage is obviously done to discourage diners from bringing their own wine.

                        TFL isn't cheap. If one is super concerned about the cost, one probably can't afford it.

                        1. re: tstrum

                          If the markup on wine at TFL is outrageous, what about the markup on fountain soda at places like In-N-Out? What should be done about that?

                          1. re: nocharge

                            http://audrey102.files.wordpress.com/...

                        2. I think you will be fine no matter what, just enjoy. Do keep in mind the prices all include service, wine prices also.

                          1. This is a very timely thread, as I am facing the exact same quandry for our meal at TFL in May. I am very happy to hear the advice that giving a budget is acceptable. I will be going with option #3.

                            For what it's worth, my wife and I ate at Per Se last year. They actually don't offer a wine pairing. We each had a glass of wine and shared 2 half bottles, at the sommelier's recommendation. This worked very well. I wish I had written down the wine we had :(

                            1. #3. The sommelier is there to guide you with pairings and choices that suit you. What you have already discovered is that there are many wines on the menu which you are unfamiliar with. Many winemakers are so small that they only sell to restaurants, not to stores. FL is a restaurant that will have many wines that are simply unavailable elsewhere- there 's really no other way for you to gain knowledge of a wine that isn't available at retail.

                              And as for sommeliers- especially Masters that you will find at FL- these are truly masters at wine and service. Let them be wonderful for you, that's what they do. Put out some parameters as have been mentioned, and they will bring you something that will enhance the entire experience.

                              Enjoy you meal, enjoy your wine with it.

                              1. Agree with all the others for #3. When we went to TFL last August, right after having some champagne to start, we asked the sommelier to keep us at around ~$250 for the rest of the wines. She wound up getting us a mix of glasses and half-bottles. It was nice that towards the end of the meal, she mentioned that we had enough left for one glass (to split) and we could either have it with the cheese or the dessert. We wound up going with the wine for the cheese (but of course! and had coffee with dessert. As much as I would have loved to splurge on the full wine pairing, it was enough wine for us, especially since we had to drive back to our hotel outside of Yountville.

                                At a place like this, it's definitely worth it to take advantage of an experienced and well-trained sommelier. There's definitely no shame in setting a wine budget considering your dinner will likely set you back almost $1K. Having an agreed upon budget allowed us to relax and enjoy our meal without worrying about the wine costs. Your price range seems very reasonable at $200-300, and should be enough wine for two.

                                1. If you really aren't that into wine and have access to your own cellar you should probably select option #3. Your budget is certainly high enough to get you nice pairings with at least some of the courses (you probably won't receive a glass/course as then you would have had 9 or so glasses of wine). Be aware that there are a couple of courses where there are two choices which could require different wine pairings depending on what you select and frequently for the same course you and your husband may receive different preparations of the same base ingredient, all of which could require a different wine for the same course. Thus their is no "set" pairing for the tasting menu since the tasting menu varies. The key is to talk with the Sommelier and give him any parameters (maximum you are willing to spend on wine, wine types you particuarly enjoy, Wine types you do not enjoy, ....). As to those that suggest to bring a bottle and skip the wine list, two things, a bottle you bring can't be on the wine list, and one bottle is highly unlikely to go with more than half the meal thus you will either need a second bottle or to purchase something off the list thereby defeating your money saving proposition.

                                  Btw, I typically do bring in wine to The French Laundry when I go but I have a large cellar and bring multiple bottles (typically which cost me $200+ each) and usually purchase at least one bottle off the list.

                                  -----
                                  The French Laundry
                                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: skwid

                                    I'm lost again... "If you really aren't that into wine and have access to your own cellar you should probably select option #3." Skwid, did you mean to write "not have access"? It seems from the rest of your post that you with a cellar bring in your own wine, not option #3.

                                    1. re: wew

                                      Yes, that's what I meant to write. I do bring my own wine but have a fairly good sized cellar. However I'm probably an anomaly compared to the average customer (particuarly one from out of the area flying in).

                                  2. Hi, Oklahoman:

                                    Just wondering how your visit to French Laundry went from a wine point of view. My wife and I are looking at about the same wine budget as you were (200-300 for both of us), and I was hoping you could report on and describe your TFL wine experience.

                                    Thanks, and I hope you had a great time.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: davetroy

                                      When I went with my spouse to French Laundry, we asked our waitress to select wine pairings for us to accompany the food. We told what our wine budget was and she was able to accomodate our stipulations. BTW, $300 is reasonable for wine at French Laundry. I must say that the pairings were excellent; the interplay and the contrast...oh my. This was one of the best food/wine pairings I've ever had.

                                      -----
                                      The French Laundry
                                      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                      1. re: klum1971

                                        The servers and wine people at FL are outstanding, ask them for advice based on what your meal selections are.

                                        We had a glass of bubbly each to start followed by a half bottle of an exceptional Gruner Veltliner and an excellent southern Rhone for the second half. The sommelier poured a beautiful dessert wine for us. Given the richness of the food, this was more than enough and it was a stunning evening.

                                    2. Last night, my wife and I took door #3 at the French Laundry, asking that the sommelier pick wines by the glass for us for the meal. While what they pour by the glass certainly isn't the top end of their wine list, neither is any of it dreck. We told our waiter that our limited budget allowed $200 for wine, he passed it on to the sommelier, and we were supplied with a quite adequate stream of wines to complement the courses served over our 3+ hour meal.

                                      Our first impulse was to take a bottle (making sure it wasn't one they have on their wine list, which is online) trying to match it with the menu (also online the day of service) and pay what is now a $75 corkage. We decided, though, that no wine we could bring would go with 9 (or 10, or 11) courses. If you're gong to blow $250 per person on food, wine is a pretty poor place to scrimp, and it was our choice that with glasses running $30-35, $200 would buy enough wine to get us through dinner. It was. More than that, getting home might have been a problem.

                                      Even a half bottle for only two people is more of one variety than needed for one or two courses. For a party of four, several of those might be about right.

                                      -----
                                      The French Laundry
                                      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: gene94574

                                        Thanks for the report! I think what people should remember is, that like every good restaurant, TFL wants to serve its customers. Don't be shy about asking them for what you want or need to have the experience you deserve to have! Nor should you be embarrassed by setting a price limit -- after all, while many of the people who dine there are well-heeled folks who don't blanch at dropping $1000 for dinner, most of them are people for whom this is a very rare and special treat.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          I would second what Ruth said -- I went to TFL with a girlfriend who barely drinks, and we were only doing wines by the glass (and not the super expensive ones), and get the sommelier could not have been more gracious and helpful to us (and we were probably some of the youngest people in the restaurant that night).