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Feb 9, 2011 08:35 AM

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.