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Ordering wine at a fancy restaurant [moved from Manhattan board]

Whenever I eat out, I like ordering a bottle of wine. It just makes the whole experience so much better but when I am at a fancier restaurant, I always find myself saying, who orders $3,000 bottle of wine(or $10,000 bottle of wine??)? Of course there are a lot of rich people in the World who doesn't mind dropping that kind of money on a single bottle of wine but I am not one of them. The most expensive bottle I've ordered is $200. The one good thing about ordering a 'cheap' wine from the list is that even though the wine menu might be 20 pages, I can eliminate alot of wines that don't qualify under my budget.
So the question is, how much do you Chowhounders spend on a bottle of wine when you do fine dinings?

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  1. GREAT question Monica, one I think might be better in the Wine forum, but glad I saw it on the list.

    Price is a personal preference, but here's what I've come around to after many years: to me the wine and the food are roughly equal at a great meal. You could say that the food is more important, more complex, more of it... but there's something about an incredibly well-matched glass of wine that just takes the meal to the next level and without it the meal isn't the same...

    SO, I have them roughly equal in my mind, so I'll pay about the same for them. If the meal costs around $40 per person I'd like to pay around 40 for the wine. I'm not fixated at that price, if I can find an awesome bottle of wine for 20 or 25, fine, if I have to go to 50 or 60, well I'll usually do that... but a $120 bottle with a $40 meal? The wine just isn't going to deliver a three-fold improvement in the experience.

    I should also say that whenever possible I do BYOB / corkage as you're just generally going to get better wine selection and pricing that way.

    As for who pays $3,000 or $10,000 for a bottle.... IMO there are two types: 1) special occasions / celebrations of all sorts, a business deal, a milestone in life, etc... because there is NO WAY that the wine is going to be so much better than something far less, or that the wine will add, say 10x the value to the meal. You can get a fully-loaded 10-15+ course extravaganza at some of the world's great restaurants for less than $300. There's just no wine that will improve that meal ten times over, it's strictly a celebration; 2) The second group, frankly, are fools who really think that the wine is worth that price... often you see these people not only grossly overpaying for a wine, but then pairing it with inappropriate food!!

    Thanks for the great question.

    1. Never over $50. Expensive wines are for drinking at home. And with a very simple main dish, such as a roast.

      1. A lot of "nouveau riche" will order an expensive bottle of wine just because they can and want to show off their money.

        Remember that there are a lot of people who are not wine aficionado that will expect that the most expensive wine is the best wine. (or that the best wine is the more expensive one)

        I'm with Tombstone that the price of wine that I will pay will match the price of the meal I will be ordering.

        I've ordered more expensive wine mostly because the price was that at the restaurant I went to; 200e at a french michelin 3 star, which was the most I've ever paid for wine.

        Nowadays, I will spend around maximum $40-$60 in Québec (province) where there is a alcohol monopoly, and I will be a lot more picky about what I pick, and I am a lot more knowledgeable than I used to be.


        1. I agree with Tombstone Shadow of keeping in line with the food. Though my ratios are a bit different it's roughly $40 pp on food, $40 pp on alcohol. I usually allocate about 1/2 a bottle per person of wine or 3 cocktails for those who are not DD.

          At the very high end, the markups are different and the so does the cost/value proposition so the ratio changes (more like $100 pp on food, $60-75 on wine). Though once we are at the very high end (at the $200 pp for food) we are usually doing a tasting menu with pairings.

          1. House wine usually is adequate for my tastes, as I have not taken the time to educate my palate. Except when I am in a German fine dining restaurant.

            This is where I blow the budget if I spy a Kloster Eberbach, Schloss Vollrad, or Johanisberg Riesling. I am a sucker for any Frankenwein, as well as a Sonnenuhr Moselle. And a gewürztraminer from the Alsace is also on the short list.

            And if I were ever to find something from the Bergstrasse, all caution would be thrown out the window.

            1. As Monica knows, in New York City, at a "fine dining" restaurant, it is very unlikely that one will see any full bottle of wine at less than $50. The lowest rung, $50-$70, for reds, usually will feature a Beaujolais, something from the Loire such as Chinon of a recent vintage and maybe a Barbera...sometimes a Blaufrankisch...For whites, usually a QBA or if lucky, a Kabinett riesling, or a Macon,but the pickings will be slim...

              7 Replies
              1. re: penthouse pup

                Pup: those are great reasons for seeking out BYOB-friendly venues!!

                1. re: TombstoneShadow

                  I don't ever remember going to a restaurant in NYC that was BYOB. With high rent and all, if a restaurant in NYC doesn't sell alcoholic beverages, it can't carry on financially.
                  Most restaurants do let you bring your own wines but at high corkage fees...often times as high as I 'd like to spend on a bottle of wine...$100.

                  1. re: Monica

                    There are so many NYC restaurants that permit BYOB (most with a corkage)... in fact there's a BYOB "society" in NYC... I'll try and dig up their website for you. It lists dozens of low-cost corkage venues.

                  2. re: TombstoneShadow

                    TS: Yessir, that's the ideal but in NYC, for "fine-dining," there is no BYOB (well, I can think of two mid-range places that do allow it on Mondays.) There has been discussion about corkage but in NYC "fine dining," it can run pretty high, if at all allowed.
                    Actually, it's why I eat and drink at home, more than ever, and I don't need to worry about the sommelier...

                    1. re: penthouse pup

                      Lots of places in Manhattan, while not BYOB, will allow you to bring in your own wine for a corkage fee. It pays to call and find out what that fee is. Plus to look at their wine list and see what their price range is for the type of wine you have in mind.

                      The wine you bring cannot be on their wine list, that's just courtesy, if not prohibited, but if you have a special wine to bring, it's often worth it. Customary when doing this to offer the owner/manager/sommelier a glass. If you also order from the wine list, sometimes the corkage fee is waived.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        "Lots of places in Manhattan.... will allow you to bring in your own wine..."

                        Amen June... here's a list of 125 of them to start:

                        Just scanning the first page there are SO MANY venues that offer free corkage, either 7 days, or on select days during the week.

                        Here's another list of 100+ restaurants, including some of the top names in the city. Note that corkage fees run anywhere from free up to $80+. The average is between 10 and 20. This is a website of BYOB aficionados in NYC:

                        Another list of 157 restaurants:

                        Assume there's significant overlap between these lists :) but the bottom line is you can see there are good to great restaurants in every imaginable cuisine that offer BYOB in the city.

                        Once you're finished with the above... start on the following list of 283 NYC restaurants, the majority of which the posters claim have NO CORKAGE, although scanning the list I did find several listing a modest corkage $10-20 bucks.

                        Here's the BYOB list of the Tasters Guild of New York. It's an old list so likely alot of this needs updating, but again you can see the scope of venues offering no or low corkage:

                        Perhaps saving the best for last, here's the GoBYO website which finds no less than 1,600+ restaurants offering corkage "less than $20" within 10 miles of zip code 10065. If I limit it to 3 miles there's only 996 restaurants so you would be finished with them within 3 years at one per night:

                        Facebook page for "Friends of BYOB New York", with alot more current information: probably a good group to network with:

                    2. re: TombstoneShadow

                      Well, as I travel around the globe, I find it rather difficult to travel with most of my cellar. I am always faced with a restaurant's wine list, and the markups involved.

                      In a perfect world, I would have my own 737 ER, with a mini-cellar in the back, but that just does not happen.

                      What should one do in, say Beaune? Should they go with the wine list, or should they just eschew wine, since they have some great Burgs, back in the US, which they did not think to bring with them?

                      For us, it is a simple question: "Does something on the wine list enhance our meal?" Along the same lines, "Does the restaurant offer a sommelier's pairing for the meal?"

                      For me, it is not about the $, but the enjoyment. We are never trying to impress anyone, but ourselves - high-priced wines, or low-priced wines. What goes best with each dish? That is the question that we ask.


                  3. I have several very fair friends who like to go to the $300-400 range for wines they really like when dining with a group of 4 or 6, sometimes 2 bottles, but they ALWAYS put it on a separate check from the dinner bill. Often I never know what the wine cost when they take charge of the wine list and selections.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Veggo


                      Are you talking about me again?

                      If you know the price of the wines, then I have not done my job as a host. Shame on me.


                    2. high end restaurants are the perfect time to ask the wine steward. if it's a top restaurant, the wine list might have only a few choices under say $50 but lots of choice in the $75-$125 range and even more in the $100-150 range. give them your price range and taste preference and let them do the work. if you like a white burgundy but don't want to spend $300, tell them that. they really like doing that and usualy they won't try to sell up. i had a couple of great bottles at le bernadin under $100. but be sure to ask the cost before oking the purchase. once at per se i looked at the list and ordered a bottle at about $125. the wine guy said they were sold out and recommended a different bottle. when i asked the price he said $300. how he can do that is beynd me but i am glad i asked beforehand. although if i didn't and i was charged that for a bottle i would not pay it. when you order a bottle at a certain price and ask for a recommendation similar to it, it should obviously be in the same price range. but most wine stewards enjoy the challange.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: dock

                        I agree with talking to the wine steward. I feel comfortable telling her that we drink wine every day but aren't connoisseurs and really don't want to spend a lot. Usually what they then suggest is right where we want it to be. And, yes, I've been annoyingly surprised when a sub for something not available is quite more expensive. I pay it but let them know that I'm displeased. A dollar figure? Probably not more than $50-60.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Great recommendations for wines with the dishes from the kitchen, is where the sommelier, or wine steward SHOULD excel, and in my experience, they usually do a great job. With some background, the price-points, and knowing the dishes ordered, they should have some very good suggestions.

                          As for the "more expensive," I have only had that happen once (never again at that restaurant). I was hosting board members, and my first two red wine choices were unavailable. They were both in the US $250 range. The sommelier (chef/owner's wife) recommended a wine, not on their list. I went with that. Well, it was only US $700, or almost 3x the price-points of my chosen wines. Since we were hosting, we paid and left, but have never been back. Though we could have used them for dozens of similar dinners, and even more candidate dinners, and love the chef's food, they lost a client on that little mis-step.

                          Were I recommending a wine, and knew the general price-points of the client, I would not deviate much, without an acknowledgement from that client. Even a + $25 would be noted, and an almost 3x increase would not even be considered, unless they told me to "pull out the stops." They made a few extra US $100 that night, but lost much more, over the years, just from us, plus everyone, with whom we have spoken. Amazing how that can happen.

                          The chef and the sommelier have divorced. The chef has now opened up two different restaurants, and is struggling at the most recent. Maybe others encountered the same, or similar, and just stay away in droves?


                      2. Monica, I have no simple answer for that . . .

                        In the United States and/or Canada, in order for me to order a bottle of wine from the list in a restaurant, it *must* be a good value. Now this doesn't mean (e.g.) it must be under $50 . . . a great value can be found in a $200 bottle, or even a $1,000 bottle, as well as one with a <$50 price tag associated to it.

                        Now, EVERY wine list I have ever seen in a "fancy" restaurant with a "serious" wine program has wines with excellent QPR (quality-price ration) to them . . . you just need to look. And on multiple occasions -- probably half a dozen times this year alone -- the sommelier/wine buyer for the restaurant has come up to me *after* I've ordered the wine to compliment me on my selection, saying that I discovered the "gem" on the list, or words to that effect.

                        First and foremost, I guess I decide what type of wine I want to drink (something from Burgundy, the Rhône, the Rioja, the Loire Valley, the Douro, etc., etc.). Then, I look for the value on the list. If there is no value in the, say, Rioja section, I may look elsewhere in Spain, for example, or then shift to another region or wine type.

                        In Europe, I will often simply order the house wine, or something local to the area in which I am dining.

                        In Mexico, it's usually beer or tequila, but rarely wine.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: zin1953

                          Yes, I have almost always ordered house wine when in Europe and never been disappointed.

                          When dining in US, I do think it's best to consult with sommerlier. Give him/her my price range and the tyes of wines I like...i try to order ones that are hard to get in stores like the wines from Le Baux region which I loved in France.

                          But when I do dine at a fancy restaurant in US, I just can't believe 90% of wines on the list are way beyond my budget so I was just wondering if people order those wines..I mean, I can't imagine even on a special occassion, paying $1,000 for a bottle of wine no matter how good the wine may be.

                          1. re: Monica

                            Monica, I have an advantage (perhaps) in that I started learning about and tasting wines in 1963, and began working in the trade in 1969. The only time I really consult a sommelier is to ask which wine may be drinking better now, A or B.

                            But know that -- overwhelmingly -- people are not spending $1,000s on a bottle of wine. Expense accounts are.

                            As an aside, keep an eye out for Mas de Gourgonnier from Les Baux . . . .

                            1. re: Monica

                              In Les Baux, you may try some of the wines from Mas de
                              La Dame (La Stele, or Coin Cache) -- I was pleasantly surprised last Fall.

                            2. re: zin1953


                              While "value" might be a draw for us, we are most often concerned with how well a wine pairs with the dishes. That is our goal.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                Bill, that presumes that one excludes the other . . . and it's my fault for not making that clearer.

                                I ***always*** pick the wine to compliment the food -- unless I'm bringing my own wine to the restaurant, and then the process is reversed: I am choosing my food to compliment the wine.

                                My wife and I may be having a "meat entrée" -- if we both choose beef, she'll probably be having a filet, and I a rib-eye -- I'm not going to pick that German Spätlese no matter how great a value it might be. ;^) On the other hand, I won't be ordering that Cabernet with my oysters, either!

                                Sorry I didn't make that more clear in my initial post. But that said, I have a problem with spending $$$$ on wines in restaurants -- in no small part due to the fact that I know how high their markup is. This doesn't mean I won't order wine off a wine list, but it doe mean I try not to reward them so much by paying "extra" for the wine.

                                FWIW, I just got back from a quick weekend in Las Vegas for a family event. (Why I have family living in Las Vegas is a whole other issue!) Went to a steak house with my wife & brother-in-law, and we ordered a 2001 Lopez de Heredia Viña Todonia and a 2004 Roda I -- one was just under $100, the other just over. Now this was in a restaurant that offers Colgin and Yelping Beagle in the thousands, has verticals of Lafite and Pichon Lalande -- also in the thousands -- and so on . . . those are wines I simply cannot conceive of paying for . . . . in some cases, I can't conceive of paying for them at retail prices, but certainly never off a wine list!

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  This deserves to be rec'd multiple times. Sorry I can only give you one.

                                  1. re: zin1953


                                    As always, thank you for the clarification.

                                    I am on the same page with you, and will also allow that there have been some instances, where I found a wine that I really wanted to drink, and at a good price (for a restaurant), then we ordered our meals around that. It's usually the other way around, but not always.

                                    As for the Yelping Beagle, I do not even have it in my cellar, though I have been offered some, at "better prices," but still way beyond my comfort level. First time that we dined at French Laundry, it was for lunch. Three guys were at the next table, and did 4 bottles of that, at US $4K per bottle, plus another bottle of Arajo. They had flown up from LA, just for lunch. Hope that none was the pilot.

                                    I also recall an earlier, wine-oriented program on the Food Channel, where the host talked of his lunches, where he averaged US $ 10K, just for the wines. Must be nice to have a network expense account!



                              2. I guess I should chip in here since I used to own restaurants, know quite a bit about wine (but not compared to the experts here), and invariably come up a winner in restaurants.

                                I start with the food, and these days we are not all ordering the same thing and the menu selections are often eclectic. That makes the choice of wine much more difficult than 50 years ago.

                                You also have to consider who is at the table, how much they're drinking and whether they will drink both red or white.

                                In a fancy restaurant in your shoes I would pass all this info onto the sommelier along with your price level.

                                I do this myself, present a couple of ideas to the sommelier and ask if he has a better idea or two. If he does and it works great, I leave a nice extra tip directly into the sommelier's hand.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: collioure

                                  Relying on the sommelier is what I so often recommend. While I have an extensive cellar, I often do not know the kitchen, and especially THAT night. A good sommelier should know the kitchen, their cellar, and be able to chose perfect pairings. If not, they are not worth their salary.

                                  A few months back, we were in Sydney, dining at some of their top restaurants. At most, we chose the Chef's Tasting Menus, and at all, but one, asked for the Sommelier's Pairing. Since we were in Australia, and from the US, we wanted them to concentrate on their "local wines." With, but one exception, they jumped at that chance, and rose to the occasion. Most had never been tasked with such, and loved the challenge. For the one, who refused to do so... well, his wine choices were some of the worst of the trip! [Maybe it did not help that his restaurant's food was some of the worst of the trip also? Bad wines, with bad food, regardless of the rave reviews. I think that it was a case of the "Emperor's New Clothes.]

                                  Just my observations,


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Would be very interesting and educational to learn of both some of the great sommelier pairings and the bad pairings the individual chose!

                                    1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                      Just did some O`ahu dining. Most meals were Chef's Tastings, with Sommelier's Pairings. The best were at La Mer (though not the best meal of the trip), Chef Mavro's (great 13-course meal, with two different levels of pairings between us), and then Alan Wong's (not quite the level of wines, as the other two, but great with the menu). Then, we hosted some Kiwis in San Francisco (there for the America's Cup) at Farallon. Sommelier Jennifer Gomez did the pairing for our Tasting Menus, and each wine was wonderful. All of this in the same week!

                                      Now, some years back, we did a Chef's Tasting at Chef John Besh's Restaurant August. While the meal was great, the Sommelier's Pairings were off - way off. Stuff happens.

                                      Last month, we were in Sydney, and did the Tastings almost everywhere. As we were in Australia, and as we only see limited OZ wines in AZ, I turned each sommelier lose, to only pair with OZ, NZ or Tasmanian wines. All but one took up the challenge, and had as much fun, as we did. The one, who refused, and insisted on HIS pairings had the weakest wines (went with the weakest food too) of the trip.

                                      When I do a combo of the Chef's Tasting Menu, along with the Sommelier's Pairings, I want to go on a "wine journey." I do not want to just get the B-T-G, unless it's a perfect pairing, and most are not. Let's just say that most dining in Sydney was excellent, and so were the wines. I also think that we brightened the evenings of several sommeliers too.

                                      Let's just say that some are better, than others.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Great report.

                                        It is surprising any sommelier in Australia couldn't find sufficient local wines to match any meal... I can't offhand think of any meal for which there isn't a sensible Australian or NZ wine match.

                                        Further surprising that an aussie sommelier wouldn't maintain a cellar he was confident enough in to do entire meal matching with local wines...

                                        Quite a report.

                                        Any truly standout wines from these meals?

                                        1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                          We were just as surprised. Not sure what the deal was, but some group had just named the the "#1 Restaurant in Sydney." Yeah, in their dreams. They were OK, but were definitely at the bottom of our list, which included many restaurants at the same general level.

                                          All the rest just jumped to it, and amazed us with their pairings. Some went way, way beyond, but with big smiles on their faces. We were smiling also.

                                          I am trying to get the time, to do full reports on the full dining experiences, including the wines, and will link to those, when they are up.


                                2. How much one spends depends a lot on how much one has to spend. I tend to BYO about half the time and buy from the list the rest of the time. I have no problem asking the somm. for a recommendation, and always give as much information as to what I enjoy, the price range I am interested in paying, etc. Discretely of course. In general I have been quite pleased with the results. After all, a good somm will know the menu and wine list in a way that I don't and should be able to make a good pairing of the food and wine at any price point.

                                  As a result of listening to the somm/owner, I have ended up drinking a lot of wine that I would not have chosen on my own and enjoyed it. A couple of years ago in the Williamette Valley I had a wine that I enjoyed very much but had never heard of. The owner of the restaurant called the owner of the winery while we were at the table, handed me the phone, and the next day I was at the winery tasting their entire line-up. I ended up purchasing a case to send home.

                                  As to the most I have ever spent on a bottle in a restaurant, I think it was somewhere in the $350 range, but normally I keep it under $100. Generally I feel that no more than 50% of the cost of a meal should be from the wine when "fine dining" but will make exceptions when there is something that I really want to try.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: dinwiddie

                                    That is exactly what I always want - a wine "trip," that I have not, or cannot take back home. Surprise me, teach me, take me somewhere, that I have never been before. That is when they earn their salary.


                                  2. Monica, another point not to be lost is that there is a racket of producing fake bottles of very expensive wine. Certainly some of those $3,000 to 10,000 bottles are actually frauds.

                                    I recall an interview with the owner or winemaker at a major French winery. From memory it went something like he was visiting a prestigious restaurant and found many bottles of his rarest wines on the menu. He thought to himself "We don't even have that many bottles in our reserve cellar at the winery... how can this place have them?"; i.e. he suspected the wine at the restaurant was fake.

                                    When you think of it, what a windfall for an unscrupulous merchant: Take a really nice bottle of $100+ cabernet and re-package it as a legendary bordeaux at many times the price.

                                    There was another thread started recently on the subject of fake prestige bottles, perhaps someone can link to it.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: TombstoneShadow

                                      I guess I don't have to worry about that because I will never get to drink $3,000 bottle of wine in my life.

                                    2. I usually choose from the cheaper bottles on any list. If the restaurant doesn't have any good bottles under $40, if I can bring myself to eat there I'll usually bring my own and pay corkage.

                                      Occasionally I'll pay more for something I can't get retail.

                                      Once in a while I find an older wine on a restaurant's list that doesn't cost much more than the wine's currently going for retail. Usually that's because they cellared it themselves and haven't kept their prices up to date.