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French Laundry corkage fee - $150 Wow! [Yountville, Napa Valley]

Visiting the Bay Area this weekend, dining at French Laundry, Atelier Crenn and Manresa. While skimming the FL wine list I noticed that the corkage fee is now a hefty $150, up from $75 the last time we visited.

I've never actually brought a bottle of wine to a restaurant so this is a service I don't need, but this still seems pretty steep to me. I checked the other two restaurants just for comparison and Atelier Crenn is pretty friendly at $45. Didn't see a number for Manresa.

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  1. Manresa's corkage is on their contact page:

    "Corkage is $75 for each 750 ml bottle, with a limit of 4 bottles per table. We will gladly waive one corkage for each 750 ml bottle purchased."
    http://www.manresarestaurant.com/cont...

    1 Reply
    1. re: nocharge

      Thanks ... I hadn't looked at the contact page since we made the reservation via Opentable.

      The $75 is I guess in line with a resto of this caliber. Limit of 4 bottles is generous (it's one bottle per 2 customers at FL), and waiving the corkage fee if you purchase another bottle seems generous as well.

    2. not that it matters to the good folks who dine there, but the least expensive bottles on the list appear to have 'just' a $40 - $60 mark up over retail. if you were a clever shopper when stocking your cellar though, buying bottles at release or pre-release prices, the $150. corkage isn't close to the mark up for many of the wines.

      23 Replies
      1. re: moto

        Exactly.

        Which is why the corkage at TFL is not out of line.

        1. re: moto

          I look at the mark ups for the wines I'm familiar with when judging whether or not a restaurant's prices make sense. The handful of FL wines I looked at had 350 - 400% markups, which is not exactly customer friendly.

          What specific wines are you seeing with a $40 - $60 markup? Are they ones retailing for $10 - $15? If so, I'm still not impressed with the generosity of the pricing.

          If you can find wines that retail for $60-$100 and are on the list for $100 - $160 then you've made your point. Do you see any like that? (Not trying to pick a fight, I'm just curious ... the wines in my sweet spot price and taste wise had much higher markups.)

          1. re: willyum

            Before this veers too far into the weeds, I just checked a couple of wines on their list that we'll probably be drinking by the glass and the FL prices on that are very fair. Two pinots are $36 and $38 by the glass but the bottles retail at K&L for $65 and $60, so they are good wines.

            Likewise the two chards we are considering are $35 and $36 for highly rated chards.

            Also I looked at a couple of bottle prices (I'm too busy for this right now, but wanted to get my facts straight) for the types of wines we'd likely drink there and markups were less than I said earlier, ie, not 400%.

            I tried to find ones in my range (say $150-$250 at the resto) that were also carried by say L20 (an excellent Chicago seafood restaurant, M-2*) and also by K&L so I could get a solid retail price.

            An example: Kosta-Browne, "One Sixteen," Russian River Valley 2011 (Pinot) retails for $105 at K&L, is just $140 at L20 and goes for $250 at FL. So actually a fair markup for this class of place at 250%.

            One more, with less spread between L20 and FL: Kongsgaard 2011 Napa Chard $275 FL L20 $225

            So I got away from my original bitch/whine about the corkage fees, but looking closer at the actual in house wine prices for the kind of wines I would consider there I see the prices are not out of line with similar places.

            1. re: willyum

              I haven't looked at it since last year but in debating whether to bring a bottle from my cellar, er garage, and pay the corkage or order off the list I had a similar understanding that the mark ups were very high. Since my wife doesn't drink and I wanted variety I went the by the glass route. The thing is the FL has some wines that are made just for them and its a pretty broad list. Expensive to be sure, but I just looked at it as the price of admission since its not exactly a regular rotation restaurant for me, if ever again.

              1. re: willyum

                the wines that were familiar to me and appeared to have a $40-60 markup over retail (which is higher of course than what the restaurant pays) were under $100. on the list, and usually retail around $20-40. the restaurant seems to be classifying some wines as 'vin ordinaire' on the basis of their price, suggesting by its pricing if the consumer wants those, to buy them from the restaurant. from my quick skimming of the wine list, there probably are a number of wines that retail in the $40-80 range that get marked up $100-150.

                1. re: willyum

                  There are good values to be found on the list, I found some my last visit (I don't have the time to look now). I would recommend working with the sommelier to find a wine at your price point. I found the sommelier to be very helpful and knowledgeable (a lot more than at Benu or Manresa).

                  1. re: JonDough

                    >> I would recommend working with the sommelier

                    Actually the first time we went to the FL I tried this and ended up with a German Riesling that we didn't like much because it was too dry.

                    I'll pass.

                    1. re: willyum

                      willyum, FWIW, your unfortunate experience with FL sommelier advice is far from typical of what I and most people I know have encountered with that department.

                      I haven't been there recently for a current re-check of this, and of course it's possible that something has changed. But among that restaurant's distinct features -- a point that many people know it for -- has been what I call a "full-service" sommelier department. Capable of estimating someone's palate, even if they don't know much about wine, and coming up with a recommendation within budget that will best please. You do indeed get something in return for those high wine-list and corkage charges.

                      Few, even very-high-end, restaurants have both the dedicated wine staff and training level to do this, and it's impressive to see in action.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        I have never dined at FL, but the sommeliers at Bern's in Tampa, custodians of the largest cellar in the world, are VERY impressive at prompting a good pairing, and NOT upselling.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Bern's has long been legendary. I hope to get there some day.

                          I've seen some very expert, accommodating, sommelier service in Europe also, particularly France where there are even extensive formal-education and career-path traditions just for wine service (we have only shadows of that tradition in the US) but the "Laundry" was about comparable.

                        2. re: eatzalot

                          @eatzalot who wrote "among that restaurant's distinct features ... has been what I call a 'full-service' sommelier department"

                          If you want to impress me with the wisdom and skill set of the sommelier it's simple to do: create a wine pairing that skilfully complements the food. As an example not long ago a somm warned me 'you might think this wine has too much minerality, but with the oyster it will be perfect.' He was right on both accounts. I was impressed.

                          I don't think you can find a single wine that will pair well with every item on FL's tasting menu. What single wine will match well with the oyster dish, the lamb or wagyu dish, the lobster and the desserts?

                          You can get these kinds of multi-wine pairings (with varying degrees of expertise/success) at almost all high end restaurants with tasting menus. For example I've had exceptional wine pairings at Meadowood (I still remember the somm's name three years later - Rom Toulon - he was an ace), at Le Bernardin, at EMP, Jean Georges, Daniel and at L20 (even a beer pairing there for a 'crab chip' ... loved it). I've had the pairings at Alinea a couple of times and it's tough to nail all of those because the food is so varied, but I thought 7 of 9 were spot on last time. A couple were inspired, like a barolo with the white truffle risotto and a Lebanese cab with a meat dish.

                          Both of the Michelin 3*'s in Spain we dined at in October offered wine pairings (one excellent, one so-so).

                          I've been to most of the Michelin 3*s in the US, many of them two or three times, one of them four times and all of them except Robuchon, French Laundry and Per Se offer wine pairings.

                          On this upcoming trip I see that Manresa and Atelier Crenn also offer tasting menu wine pairings.

                          I can't really see why FL (and Per Se) don't offer this. With all their expertise and wide range of wines they should be able to concoct a knockout pairing.

                          I'll ask the somm this when we're there in a couple of days :) Just curious as to what their reasoning is.

                          1. re: willyum

                            Enjoy your trip. Manresa's Jeff Bareilles is one person rather than a large staff of sommeliers as at some restaurants, but he has a very subtle palate. (He's even responsible, I've read, for starting a particular a new-generation fresh-produce-driven cocktail trend, using the same produce sources as the restaurant, which seems to've made an impression on some mixologists.)

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              I have done Manresa's pairings maybe 4 times, and I found it OK not great. I hate to say it, but I wonder if there's a bit of laziness in the pairing department, with the same general wines being paired at different points of the meal, instead of digging in to how a particular dish is being prepared on a single day. Part of the problem is Manresa has a single wine cover two dishes, as I remember - is it the depth of the cellar there? Whatever the reason, I do recommend the lower priced pairing at M. The Som doesn't feel as constrained to use "big name" wines, and the pairings were flat-out better (and cheaper).

                              In contrast, I was blown away by the pairings at Le Bernardin ... although one was actively bad (and I commented to the som why I thought the pairing didn't work... can't remember at the moment the exact dish and wine), but the rest were excellent and made each dish better.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                Off topic, but what tasting menu (Chef or Le Bernardin) did you have at Le Bernardin with the wine pairing?

                                1. re: JonDough

                                  Chef's tasting menu with the seasonal truffle extension.

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    Thank you. I am heading to NY soon and trying to figure out my plan of attack.

                                  2. re: JonDough

                                    >> "Off topic, but what tasting menu (Chef or Le Bernardin) did you have at Le Bernardin with the wine pairing?"

                                    You asked this of bbulkow but we had a similar experience with the Chef's Tasting menu a few years ago ... most of the pairings were really good, with mostly French wines, but there was one somewhat earthy red wine paired with a fish dish that I found puzzling.

                                    When I asked about why they paired that wine with that dish I was told something like the goal was to pair to some element in the sauce ... which I thought was rather subtle, since the fish was the main focus.

                                    Anyway, other than that (sometimes they probably get bored pairing seafood and try something out of left field just because ...) I thought it was well done. The somm, Aldo Sohm, has been voted "Best Sommelier in America" and then "Best Sommelier in the World" by his peers in the past few years.

                                    And I still remember the final dessert pairing ... a shot of 23 year old Ron Zapaca rum from Guatemala. Wow, that cleared the sinuses.

                                    Anyway, I would say go for the pairings at Le Bernardin.

                                    1. re: willyum

                                      Thank you. That is very helpful.

                                      1. re: willyum

                                        Exactly. I found one puzzling wine, and when I mentioned it, they were very thoughtful. Since I was sitting at the "bar", I was being served by the bar tender guy, but after discussing the wine, the som came with all the other glasses and chatted with me about them. I don't know if it was Sohm himself.

                                    2. re: bbulkow

                                      I have little (zero?) experience with the prepackaged course-by-course "pairings" offered at Manresa (I cited Jeff Bareilles there rather for his general helpfulness with advice re bottle choices), none at TFL, a bit elsewhere; it's really not my thing.

                                      Those offerings have become standard in upper-end US restaurants in the last 8-10 years. They can be convenient, especially for one or two wine-drinkers; sometimes the by-glass pairings do sing. But I'm a bit of a "wine geek" with access to unusual wines anyway, who, when going to special or remarkable restaurants, often dines with others similarly wine-obsessive, and enough people to justify a few bottles (always saving some for the restaurant personnel if the bottles are truly unusual, of course) so "pairing" in my context means bottle choice (list, brought-in, or both). But if I hadn't invested a good 30 years in regular blind tastings with experts to learn smells and tastes and get to know what goes with what, I'd find it much more efficient to borrow, or maybe the word is hire, the expertise of sommeliers.

                                      I even know some true fanatics who visit one very high-end Bay Area restaurant with multiple cases of wine loaded onto hand trucks (accumulated and aged during 20 or 30 years of astute buying) so as to select a few for dinner, in consultation with the sommelier. Lending depth to the concept of wine "geek."

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        The cheaper of the two pairings I ordered at Manresa a few years ago was one of the best examples of the genre I've had.

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/548333

                                        I'm sure some people are crazy enough to bring a hand truck of wine to a restaurant, but as a general rule you don't want to move most old wines right before drinking them.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Oh, these people certainly know what they're doing. I think they may even bring the wines in on a separate visit preceding the meal.

                                          Once, I was at a tasting dinner with one of these folks, and he'd supplied a stellar Burgundy, one of the fairly senior 1990 DRCs, which would have been pretty pricey when "new" (albeit less than those faddish California "cult" cabs that were all the rage among wine newbies with lots of money) but had inflated astronomically in market value in 15 years -- so for practical purposes, you had to buy it when it was new on the market, if you weren't a billionaire. The bottle turned out to be clearly "corked."

                                          Unfazed, he fetched out the spare, brought (as usual) for such contingencies.

                        3. I thought $75.00 was high. I haven't taken wine into the FL. I find that a bit surprising given their location and the generally corkage friendly policies in the Bay area. But its the FL and they aren't running specials in an attempt to fill the place.

                            1. That is quite an increase. When I ate at the FL in April of 2013 the corkage was $75, although I drank off of their list.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: sunnyside

                                TFL wine list is ridiculous. Most of the list has a 3.25 to 3.75x Retail markup. It is nothing more than sticking your money into a slot machine that pays out 25% of what you put in. Hotel room service menus would be embarrassed at the pricing. I suppose "good for them" but there's a line between dissuading people from bringing wine, and encouraging people to drink from the list, and just downright insulting. The result for me was that when I went, I didn't drink at all, which occurs in approximately never percent of my nice dining experiences.