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Funny or outrageous?

My wife has an acquaintance whose husband runs some sort of bistro. He charges 6 dollars a glass for his "house" wines. House wines being Charles Shaw. I realize that there are expenses involved in serving wine, such as the server's time, dishwashing, breakage, rent and utilities for the establishment, etc. But how much of this should be passed on to the consumer of say 50 cents worth of wine (estimating 4 glasses per bottle)?

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  1. Wines by the glass are normally the worst deals on the entire list, just to give you some perspective.

    1. Fairly standard pricing. It's a shame that the restaurant doesn't get something more interesting for a house wine, but I don't think $6 is an outrageous (or funny) price for a glass.

      There are lots of things that seem outrageously marked up in restaurants if you look at them in isolation.

      1. Sounds to me like they are discouraging their customers from purchasing the house wine. Not only is Charles Shaw undrinkable, but they're charging twice the price of a whole bottle for one glass.

        Makes ordering a bottle of something -- ANYthing else -- a total no-brainer.

        1. Recently, I disguised and entered a bottle of Two Buck Chuck in a Merlot tasting that I was hosting. I kept my negative opinion of the Charles Shaw line to myself so not to influence that of the club members. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the bottle finished in the top three wines of the day. We all had a good laugh when I revealed the label and one person asked me to pick up a case the next time I was in the States!! Oh well, it’s a matter of personal taste; drink what you like, I tell them… To charge $6 for a glass of it though - I hope the establishment reinvests some of that profit in their cellar.

          15 Replies
          1. re: Northof9

            I think what this tells you is for most people simply cannot tell the difference between wines and for most ,2 buck chuck is fine. And if the Bistro Owner is selling this wine with no complaints, then all better to him. Should he buy more expensive wine and charge $10 or more per glass? He may know his customers.

            1. re: Northof9

              FWIW I believe that Charles Shaw is not so much a "wine" as a "label". What I mean is that the grapes come from a variety of places and two bottles of the "same" Shaw could actually be completely different.

                1. re: MRich

                  >>> FWIW I believe that Charles Shaw is not so much a "wine" as a "label". <<<

                  And how is this different from most other California wines?

                  1. re: zin1953

                    It's not different because what Shaw does is buys declassified and other wines that wineries sell off, that they do not want to put their name on. They then blend it together and bottle it up, so getting 2 bottles of similar juice is rare, unless of course they came off the bottling line at the same time.

                    Cameron Hughes does something similar, however, Cameron Hughes is purchasing GOOD to EXCELLENT wines from good wineries. He is then playing around with blends and what not, and selling high quality juice, not the garbage that Shaw is throwing in the bottle. -mJ

                    1. re: njfoodies

                      Your understanding of what "Shaw" does is incorrect. AFAIK Bronco - the company that owns the Charles Shaw label - has never purchased wines from other wineries. The company purchases cheap grapes and makes wine with them.

                      A few years back, the price of grapes was high and lots of farmers in California's Central Valley switched from growing olives or almonds or tomatoes and started growing grapes. The grapes tend not to be of tremendous quality, and now the harvest is so large that they're really, really cheap.

                      The thing that makes Charles Shaw wines so variable isn't blending, it's the lack thereof. Other mass-market wineries may buy grapes from all over, but they at least make some effort to ensure consistency from batch to batch. With Two Buck Chuck, this week's grapes may come from hundreds of miles away from last week's. Never mind subtle differences in terroir, basic things like acidity and sugar content can vary dramatically.

                      Which is one of the reasons I'm always amused when people claim that Charles Shaw wine is undrinkable. Or wonderful. Or anything else. Unless you decipher the batch coding on the boxes, you've got no idea what you're buying when you pick up a bottle of 2BC. It's never great, but covers the full range from absolutely terrible to reasonably good. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, it's like a box of chocolates...

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        You may very well be correct. The account that I am referring to above may have been an isolated incident then, but I heard it direct from a winemakers mouth, who sold of some wine that he declassifed due to smoke taint, and sold it off to Bronco. He said that it went into the 2BC, but maybe it went into a different Bronco wine. I have no idea. -mJ

                        1. re: njfoodies

                          First of all, Alan is correct.

                          Secondly, what is this "declassified" that you're talking about? There are NO classifications in California. There is no system in the US that can be compared to the appellation d'origine contrôlée of France, the DOC/DOCG of Italy, and other European systems whereby -- for example -- a wine produced from the Chambertin vineyard may be declassified to Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru, to Gevrey-Chambertin a/c, to Côte-de-Nuits, to Bourgogne, to Vin de Table . . . and EACH of those terms mean something extremely specific.

                          No comparable definitions/meanings exist in the US.


                          1. re: zin1953

                            While there is no formal classification system in California aside from AVA, the idea is the same. I have had wine that a winemaker "declassified" because nearby forest fires changed the wine. They did not think the wine should be sold under their original premium label so they used a second label. It is done informally, but the result is the same.

                            1. re: MRich

                              Whenever we made wine that wasn't "up to standard," or we simply had too much, we always called it "excess juice" and "bulked it out." The only time we ever said something was "declassified" was in the context of (e.g.) Caymus "declassifying" wine for their Liberty School label . . . when they still owned it.

                              1. re: MRich

                                This appears to be a matter of semantics. I'd agree that you can't 'declassify' something that isn't classified. But the idea is understood. I've found it really interesting to to drink 2008 Indian Creek wines from Navarro that were bottled under a second label due to varying degrees of smoke apparent in the wine. Reminds you that plants 'breathe' in the air around them.

                      2. re: zin1953

                        Most wine that I buy and drink (not a lot from California) come from the same parcel(s) of land year in and year out. And they are vinified (fermented, aged, blended, sometimes bottled) as a group or at least with an attempt at uniformity from bottle to bottle. Therefore I expect that each bottle will taste like another, at least on release.

                        From what I understand from rumor this is not the case with Shaw. Two bottles of what is seemingly the same Shaw wine could contain grapes that were grown hundreds of miles apart under completely different conditions and vinified separately. You might as well buy any cheap California wine for all the consistency you get.

                        If this is the case, the idea of "liking" Charles Shaw wine loses its meaning.

                        1. re: MRich

                          I'm also betting that most of the wine you buy and drink costs more than $1.99 . . . me, too.

                          First of all, keep in mind the scale of production that we are discussing. We are not talking about a winery that produces (e.g.) 20,000 cases of a single wine, say a specific château in Bordeaux. Here, sometimes the wine is bottled from blending tanks (i.e.: all the barriques are emptied into a large bottling tank, blended together, and then bottled), and *sometimes* the wine is bottled barrel-to-barrel. I know of several high-end producers in France who make, for example, 4,500 liters (500 cases) of a single wine, but their largest bottling tank is only 900 liters -- trust me, the wine you buy in the US is a very different wine than that exact same label in France, or in the UK . . .

                          Your expectations would most accurately (IMHO) apply to a non-vintage wine, say for example n.v. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut Champagne. Wines like this are indeed made "with an attempt at uniformity from bottle to bottle" and year after year. Even here, however, the Mumm (or Moët or Roederer) that you buy in the US is a DIFFERENT wine than you buy in France, or in the UK, or in Germany, etc.

                          We are instead speaking wine produced on a huge scale. There are very few European equivalents -- the closest would be a négociant, and even then, none that I know of approach the size and scale of Bronco, which produces 20 million cases of wine per annum.

                          Bronco owns approximately 35,000 acres of vines in California, and buys grapes from countless more. A small European estate -- Château Lafite, Gaja, Vega Sicilia, etc. -- will often ONLY use the grapes they themselves grow, year-in and year-out. But the norm in California (and in most of the New World) is that the winery and the vineyard are two separate entities -- in other words, even very high-end wineries with wines that regularly sell for over $100 will purchase grapes; some will have long-term contracts, while others will buy on the open market. But NOTHING on the label will indicate a change in the source of grapes . . . and the same holds true for a négociant label like Jadot, Drouhin, etc.


                        2. re: zin1953


                          You know that it can be the same, or can be very different. It all depends on what the label says, and how honest the producer is.

                          Let's say that I buy a bottle of Stag's Leap District Cab, from winery A, and it is labeled "Estate grown and bottled." That should narrow things down greatly.

                          If I buy a "California" labeled Cab, I might get some of the same juice, but probably not, except in a blend of Cabs.

                          Which will be the better? That depends on so many variables.

                          You are probably more aware of the potential labeling variables, and any of us here, having been in the business, and especially when many of the AVA's and sub-AVA's were being delineated and defined.

                          Now, if I have been "grandfathered in," as a Napa label, but have chosen to add juice from the Imperial and Central Valley, just because it's cheaper, but still get to use my name, I might end up with a decent wine - or I might not.

                          Now, as has been said, the CS wines win some awards, and many like them. In some tastings, they can rate surprisingly high. In my limited exposure, I have to admit that I have never been impressed, but maybe that next bottle, the one behind the Pinot Gris at TJ's? Who knows how I might like that one?


                        3. re: MRich

                          Yes, Shaw has a huge taste variance. I used to like the Shiraz (I think) several years ago, until around 2008. Now I can't drink it at all. I recently bought a cab to try, it was more drinkable than in the past, but just barely. But this summer, a Shaw white wine was really nice.

                          Shaw is the only cheap wine I try it each year (or seasonally) to see if I might like it. I buy one bottle. If I like it-
                          score!- if not... a few bucks to pour it out is fine with me.

                          OP, the mark up on just about everything in the food industry sounds crazy if you dissect it. I try not to do that -or I would never go out to eat or drink again :)

                      3. This is why as much as I love wine when given a choice of having wine by the glass or draft beer I go with beer more often. The most I recall ever paying for draft beer is $7; with the average being $5.50. Wine at $5.50 per glass doesn't exist (at least where I am) and as we know ain't ever that good. Many of the very best beers are affordable.

                        1. The ONLY problem(s) I see with this is that "Two Buck Chuck" is so well known as being $2, that charging $6/glass seems like he is begging for flak. But -- apparently -- he isn't getting any, so . . .

                          Not knowing where the bistro is located, I do not know if this next issue is a potential problem or not. Generally speaking, retail stores and restaurants in the United States can legal purchase alcoholic beverages ONLY from wholesalers licensed by the state in which they are located. It is ILLEGAL for a restaurant or retail store to purchase alcoholic beverages for resale from another restaurant or retail store. (In other words, a restaurant in, say, California can only buy from licensed wholesalers within the state of California; they cannot buy wine at, say, Costco, and then resell it in their own establishment.) Now, in much of the country, Charles Shaw wines and made by Bronco Wine Co., and sold exclusively to Trader Joe's. If your friend is buying Charles Shaw from Trader Joe's and then serving it in his bistro, he well may be violating several state laws . . . .

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: zin1953

                            That is exactly what I was going to say. How can he legally be selling this stuff? Sounds like the state liquor control board needs to pay him a visit, and it shows how shady his practices are.

                            Generally speaking however, when it comes to BTG (by the glass) pricing, most restaurants get about what hte bottle costs per glass. IE, if a bottle of Ventisquero pinot noir costs them $8, they charge $8 a glass. This is pretty much standard here in New Jersey, and one of those things that you just expect. And a great reason to buy wines by the bottle! -mJ

                            1. re: zin1953

                              So selling 2BC by the glass is illegal? Maybe he's using TJ's as a distributor? Who knows? I sure don't. And it's hearsay (someone told my wife who told me; I have no firsthand knowledge) anyhow.

                              My real curiosity was about the economics of wine by the glass and how people felt about what I think is a gross inflation. If I ran a restaurant I would probably see the situation differently.

                              As to the quality of 2BC, it's been noted elsewhere in Chowhound that as things get made to a price for TJs the quality slips, and that seems to be true for Charles Shaw.

                              1. re: Akitist

                                2BC isn't "made to a price for TJs," and its quality has never slipped. Well, at least not since the original Charles Shaw went out of business in the 1980s(?). Since then, the label has only been used on "extreme value" wines made by Bronco, which have always cost $2, and which have always been of about the same quality as what you get today.

                                The stuff is the brainchild of Fred Franzia. TJ's didn't pressure him into producing for a low price, he convinced them to carry a $2 wine with a respectable-looking label and a real cork. The rest, as they say, is history - around a billion dollars' worth so far.

                                To your original post, wine by the glass is always sold at a hideous markup. $6 for a glass of 2BC is worse than most, but not egregious by industry standards.

                                1. re: Akitist

                                  Re-read what I said, and let's not have any misunderstanding.

                                  1) I do not know where this "bistro" is. Perhaps it is in a state where a licensed wholesaler carries Charles Shaw wine and sells it to restaurants. If that is the case, it is perfectly legal for the bistro to sell it BTG.

                                  2) Trader Joe's is a retailer; in NO state where it operates is it a state-licensed wholesaler of alcoholic beverages.

                                  3) As I wrote above, "Generally speaking, retail stores and restaurants in the United States can legal purchase alcoholic beverages ONLY from wholesalers licensed by the state in which they are located." PERHAPS there is a state where it is NOT illegal to buy from a retailer and sell in a restaurant . . . but I don't know of any.

                                  * * * * *

                                  >>> As to the quality of 2BC, it's been noted elsewhere in Chowhound that as things get made to a price for TJs the quality slips, and that seems to be true for Charles Shaw. <<<

                                  Whether or not that is true for non-alocholic products, I cannot say. However, this is most certainly NOT the case with Charles Shaw -- at least not in the way you are suggesting.

                                  Charles Shaw was originally Charles F. Shaw, and was the first to grow (IIRC) Gamay Noir au jus blanc in California, and focus on making true Gamay wine in the Napa Valley (unlike everyone else, who were not making true Gamay). Long story short: it went bankrupt and, eventually the label (now having dropped the middle initial) was sold to the Bronco Wine Co.

                                  At the time, there was a HUGE surplus of wine AND grapes on the California market, and Bronco had no problem buying these excess grapes and putting a product on the market that TJ's could retail for $1.99 (in California) and still make a profit. In other words, of the 50 different brands owned by Bronco, Charles Shaw was -- from the start -- offered to TJ's as a control label. While it may be true that, as the excess dried up, the quality of some of the grapes may have declined, keep in mind that this was bound to happen given the cyclical nature of agriculture. As the volume of quality grapes expands and contracts, the quality of the available excess rises and falls with it . . .

                                  That said, let's not go overboard: Charles Shaw in the Bronco era was never GREAT wine. For some, it offered good QPR. For others, it sucked no matter what the price . . .

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    >>"as the excess dried up, the quality of some of the grapes may have declined"<<

                                    I dunno. The surplus from '05 did take a couple of years to work through, but there was another glut in '09 - the size of the crush (over 4 million tons), and importation of surplus juice from overseas drove Lodi Chardonnay (a 2BC grape if there ever was one) down to $165 per ton. Pretty easy to make a profit on a $2 bottle at those prices.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      Hi all...

                                      Two Buck Chuck is not sippin' wine, it's swillin' wine... And it's not bad at all.

                                      A few years ago the Shiraz and the Chardonnay won some pretty hefty wine competitions. That's not to say it won't vary from batch to batch but for $2 a bottle I'm not gonna complain.


                                      1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                        Lucy, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding both wines, and -- well, let's just say that questions were raised at the time and remain unanswered . . .

                                2. given the fixed costs of running a restaurant, the pricing seems reasonable to me.

                                  i look at both the fixed and variable components of a price before forming an opinion.

                                  on a percentage basis, probably the bistro charges a lower-percentage mark-up on the higher-priced wines. this would allow it to still meet the fixed costs.

                                  normally, if you want to "game" a restaurant on their percentage mark-up (but NOT ON THE DOLLAR amount) the best way to do it is to order a more expensive wine.

                                  1. This is a good question. In very general terms, it is often the policy to charge the price of the bottle at wholesale for a B-T-G offering. However, I have seen a 300 - 400% markup, over the wholesale bottle price, per the glass. Some feel that it is "what you can get away with." The most flagrant example of that policy, lasted about 6 mos., from my first, and last, visit.

                                    The husband's banker probably loves the business model. The question will be if the patrons do.


                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Well, that IS the problem: what looks good on paper as a business plan is useless if it doesn't translate into satisfied -- and repeat! -- customers.


                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        My guess is that people that order "house red" by the glass isn't very particular about what they get.

                                        1. re: MRich

                                          Depends upon what country. Some of the best values I've ever had have been "un pichet de vin rouge" at various places throughout France . . . .

                                          OTOH, and not trying to be argumentative, but the question arises: did the bistro sell the 2BC as "House Red" / "House White," or as (e.g.) Cabernet and Chardonnay?

                                    2. Just imagine the markup on a $15 corkage fee!

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: MRich

                                        FWIW, when I ran the program for a wine bar/restaurant in Santa Cruz, CA, we had 200+ wines on our list, and approximately 30 wines by the glass. Rather than looking at the markup percentage -- which remains unrealized, potential profit until the wine actually sells (and if the markup is too high, it doesn't!) -- we looked at actual dollar figures.

                                        We charged $5.00 over suggested retail price for bottles on the wine list, and a $5.00 corkage. Wines by the glass were the (bottle price plus sales tax) divided by five. We poured six 4-ounce glasses, so one glass was "pure gross profit." So, as an example, a bottle that cost $40 suggested retail was $45 on our list, and it sold because it was such a great deal!

                                        Round numbers for the sake of discussion, let's figure 10% sales tax so I can do this in my head. That $45 bottle on the wine list would sell for $9.90 by the glass --> six glasses @ $9.90 = $59.40.


                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          Ah, I miss Santa Cruz.

                                          If I lived there I would go to your bar/restaurant every day that I was not otherwise occupied at Tacos Morenos.

                                          I don't think places here in NYC have that kind of leeway with their profit margin, although I wish they did.

                                          1. re: MRich

                                            >>> I was not otherwise occupied at Tacos Morenos. <<<
                                            Ah, an individual of impeccable taste . . .

                                          2. re: zin1953

                                            Jason, thanks for the 'rithmetic, which was one of my interests. Sounds like you guys were going for volume rather than markup, a customer-friendly model.

                                            I haven't been to Santa Cruz in, well, a loooong time, as a kid. More interested in the beach, body-surfing and boardwalk than dining. Does anyone know if they still have the foot-long fries?

                                            1. re: Akitist

                                              >>> Sounds like you guys were going for volume rather than markup, a customer-friendly model. <<<
                                              It wasn't really volume -- after all, we only had 11 tables and 14 bar stools -- but we were working with dollars rather than percentages, and it just seemed to work for us.

                                              I'd still love to do it that way today, but I'd probably raise the markup to $10, maybe $15 over retail and move everything else up the same way as described above.

                                              (Don't know about the fries; sorry.)

                                          3. re: MRich

                                            Well, let's look at serving someone else's wine.

                                            You have the time to properly open it, the glassware used, the cleaning of the glassware later, and the service to pour the wine. These are all overhead costs to the restaurant. They have to come from somewhere.

                                            Actually, a US$ 15 - 25 corkage, with proper glassware, is not beyond what I would be happy to pay, so long as my wine does not appear on the wine list.

                                            Now, the "punitive" corkage fees are meant to dissuade patrons from bringing their own wines.

                                            I seldom do BYOW (especially as AZ has laws against doing so in most cases), but when I have, I have called ahead, offered to pay corkage for that "special bottle," and have never been charged, though there is usually a stated rate somewhere. Now, I do offer the sommelier, the chef and probably the owner, a glass. Though on few instances, the costs have been waived.

                                            Just some observations,


                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              Don't get me wrong. I am positively thrilled when I can bring my own wine to a restaurant and happily pay 15-20 corkage without a second thought. I patronize the restaurants that allow me to do this much more frequently than their proximity or quality might suggest. I go out on Mondays and Tuesdays in order to make BYO easier for the restaurant. I not only offer, but insist the waiter and/or wine steward try the wine. I tip as if I had ordered wine off the list.

                                              I also order salads, cheese plates and french fries without thought to the markup. That's my point. A restaurant has lots of profit centers. They may make little or no money on some things and clean up on others. A $6 glass that costs them $.50 is really only an extra $1 or so of profit to them. As long as I feel the overall product is worth what I pay I don't worry about percentages. Otherwise I'd never eat sushi.