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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.

                              2. Maybe I just have sticker shock since we were in Spain a couple of months ago and the wine prices there are ridiculously low.

                                At one Michelin 3* that I rate better than French Laundry we had a wine pairing with a 9 course meal that was just 50 euros (about $65). When I mentioned at dessert we wanted to try a good Pedro Ximenez sherry on this trip the somm said it wasn't on the list but he'd see what he could do ... and a short time later he uncorked a bottle of Fernando de Castilla Antique Pedro Ximenez and started pouring. Muchas gracias.

                                At another M-3 * that I would rate lower than French Laundry we had eleven wines with a longish tasting menu, and though the wines were not very exciting (all young local Catalan wines) the cost was 40 euros or about $53.

                                And at a Michelin one star in Bilbao the chef befriended us (the only non-Spanish speakers in the resto) and brought out a bottle of oaked white Rioja that he said was highly rated by Robert Parker (later I saw WA scored it 92), opened it and drank with us ... and didn't charge us for it. Best Spanish white I've yet had.

                                So I guess $150 to uncork your wine and decant it seemed a bit high.

                                The Spanish mindset seemed to be that drinking good wine with your meal increases the enjoyment of said meal, so drink up. The French Laundry mindset ... you can figure it out.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: willyum

                                  My best wine pairing was at Le Cinq in Paris.
                                  It was unbelievable.
                                  I don't recall the price. Maybe 150 euros?
                                  But the thing is, once that was paid, they were pulling incredible things out of their wine cellar, which they have been stocking for decades.
                                  They served some very special things, one wine from the 1970s, and something from each decade between then and now.
                                  Granted, they probably bought all these things at reasonable prices at the time and have just held onto them.

                                  But it was as if for the price of our wine pairing, we had given the sommelier the keys to the wine cellar with the invitation to 'go play and find whatever would be best'.

                                  1. re: willyum

                                    I would love to know the names of the Spanish Restaurants! With some wonderful reviews, it'd be great to be able to note them and look them up when there. Thanks!

                                    1. re: MarthaPM

                                      Martha, Azurmendi is the 3* near Bilbao. Here's a review from Andy Hayler, a British foodie who is the only person to have dined at every Michelin 3* in the world. This is the only restaurant in Spain that he gave a 20/20 rating to. We really enjoyed dining there.

                                      http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/...

                                      Here's the other 3*, Sant Pau -- a pleasant hour's train ride north of Barcelona, right on the beach. Actually a couple we met at this restaurant were the ones who suggested we try Atelier Crenn, which we'll visit this weekend. We didn't like it quite as much as Azurmendi because the tastes weren't as strong and bold, but it was a very pleasant meal.

                                      http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/...

                                      The one star in Bilbao where the chef took us under his wing is Etxanobe, with Chef Fernando Canales, who has a popular Spanish cooking show on TV. http://en.etxanobe.com/

                                      We are returning in May to dine at four new (to us) restaurants near San Sebastian but are making a detour to Azurmendi and Etxanobe as well. We really enjoyed dining in Spain.

                                      1. re: MarthaPM

                                        Martha, what a coincidence that the chef of Azurmendi, Eneko Axta, will be cooking at Manresa with chef Kinch in May. I just learned of this last weekend while at Manresa.

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/964342

                                      2. re: willyum

                                        > "So I guess $150 to uncork your wine and decant it seemed a bit high."

                                        They also top off your glass so discreetly that you don't even realize it happened ;-)

                                      3. I agree with what everyone has written. So my question is: Why dine there? It is not worth it. The reason they charge that much is because people are willing to pay it. Vote with your wallets.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: tstrum

                                          When I was going thru my "high end tasting menu" period, I was holding off on TFL until I was ready. But after some great meals, (Manresa), and some no so great, (la Folie) and an awful one, (Cyrus), I gave up on the concept. I found I was chasing the thrill of my best meal and that was not going to be repeated. Also the prices of these places have doubled or near about in the last few years and even tho I can afford it, I can't seem to justify it to myself.
                                          $150 is the price of a really good meal to me and as far as I am willing to spend. So I will look at the food porn pix from TFL but doubt if I will ever go.

                                          1. re: budnball

                                            I can understand the sentiment, I’m kind of over the tasting menu thing (for the moment anyway) and my favorite meal of the last year was at Miss Ollies for about $80 for 2 people with great cocktails. But I didn’t feel any buyer’s remorse when I got the check at the end of my meal at TFL like some other tasting menus I’ve had. And I’ve had buyer’s remorse over $8 hamburgers just because I hate to feel like I wasted a meal at any price.

                                            1. re: sunnyside

                                              I still like the tasting menu thing, but it's true the prices and expectations are getting a bit high. I had a great tasting menu experience this weekend in Philly, where we went to one of the few tasting menu places - Marigold Kitchen. It's cheap - about $85/pp before tip after tax - and it's BYO so I had friends bring two bottles (from two states away where the wine stores are better). We were able to hang out for quite a while, enjoy each other's company, and were interrupted by bites of food now and then. The wine wasn't paired well - they had brought an interesting white and red that went OK with some things and poorly with others. But ... thoroughly pleasant. And, we didn't get terribly filled up, and didn't have to spend a lot of time ordering.

                                              The "funny" thing is this restaurant is not recommended highly on the Philly CH board. Yet, where else would we have the same number of tastes? The relaxed environment, with less loud and bustle? It's highly recommended by some critics, but hasn't gotten the highest "four bell" rating by the local main critic - I suspect partially because it is tasting menu.

                                              If we only had some reasonably priced BYO tasting menu places here....

                                        2. It's worth noting that the corkage only applies to bottle NOT on their list. I imagine that if I have a wine rare enough, and expensive enough, to not be on that list, I am the type of person that doesnt scoff at $150 for corkage.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: BSpar

                                            They have a lot of wines but it's easy to find ones you like that aren't on their list.

                                            Actually none of the reds in my little 18 bottle wine fridge are on the FL's wine list ... Cadence (various Red Mountain versions ... this is a Washington state cab blend) for $40-60, Beaux Freres (two different ones, I think $60 & $80 retail ... this is Robert Parker's Oregon Pinot operation) and Caymus (the $65 one, not the $125 one ... this is a Napa cab).

                                            I know each of these well and enjoy drinking them, and if one was on the FL wine list at a reasonable markup I might get it (though probably only the Beaux Freres would match many of the dishes).

                                            The problem for me is that other wines at the same retail price point, even from the same areas, often are not to my liking. For example I like Caymus but two Napa cabs in the same price range I've tried but didn't care for much are Silver Oak and Philip Togni.

                                          2. "waiving the corkage fee if you purchase another bottle seems generous as well."

                                            It's also long been customary (written, consistent, or not) at many other Bay Area high-end restaurants. I developed the habit 15-20 years ago to always order house wines along with any brought it, which generally works out well all around if there are multiple courses. And, naturally, to share any REALLY unusual brought-in wines with interested restaurant personnel.

                                            This customary liberalism about corkage in conjunction with list wines surfaces in other regions I've seen that have a "corkage" custom -- though in some US locales, laws or customs contravene it; in much of Europe the whole "corkage" idea is unknown or exotic.

                                            Good Bay-Area restaurant corkage policies are meant (again this is widespread, but not universal or uniform) NOT to inhibit anyone from bringing in special or favorite bottles. It's helpful to realize that there exists another type of opportunistic, cheap customer who thinks it's awfully clever -- an achievement -- to find a bottle cheap at Costco or BevMo that's on the restaurant's list already, and save a few bucks by bringing it in. There are also types of restaurant customers who think it clever to try gambits for not paying their bills, and various other related behaviors -- subjects, no doubt, for other threads some day.

                                            15 Replies
                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                              Bingo.

                                              I think they're actively trying to discourage people from showing up with a budget bottle of Kenwood, and botching their own pairings, while still giving the avid collection an opportunity to walk in with a nice, possibly even rare bottle.

                                              Juggling bottles, and cutting into their profits is also a major aspect, but so would be the idea that at $75 wasn't able to scare off the people coming in with lousy $60 bottles, that would then reflect poorly on the meal. They're not offering it as means for customers to save a buck at French Laundry.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                God forbid that someone would show up with a "lousy" $60 bottle of wine that would reflect poorly on the meal. Give me a break!

                                                1. re: grampart

                                                  There are plenty of food-hostile wines in that (and every other) price range.

                                                  1. re: grampart

                                                    Grampart, I'm not sure I follow you.It's easy to buy an overpriced bottle, or simply one that's inappropriate for the meal, no matter the price point. People study for years in order to make proper wine pairings.

                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                      My interpretation of his point is that there are many selections on that wine list that are not in the "specially selected to go with the food" at all price ranges, and rarely, if ever, would go with the food.

                                                      1. re: lmnopm

                                                        If that's what they're saying, I doubt FL thinks there list is full of mindfields.

                                                        I don't doubt you can go wrong with the FL list too, but I would think they trust their own selection abilities, flawed as they may be, over their random customers abilities to pick a wine shop, and select a bottle. If you run a neighborhood wine shop, or a BevMo, and someone asks for a $100 bottle to go with a tasting menu - what do you suggest? A neutral bottle? It's a blind recommendation from someone who probably hasn't stepped foot in FL themselves.

                                                        It's in part a matter of retaining some control over the patrons experience. Then if your drink doesn't compliment your meal, they know it's at least they're own fault. Remember, French Laundry is attracting people celebrating milestones, many of whom may be spending money they're not accustomed to spending on a meal, and a lot of these customers might not fit the mold of typical fine dining, tasting menu fanatics.

                                                        1. re: lmnopm

                                                          Some of the bottles on TFL's list seem selected more to pair well with the cost and customers' expectations. If you're paying $600 and change a head (the cost with all supplements plus sales tax), what better time to drink DRC and Mouton?

                                                          1. re: MamasCooking

                                                            It's not like you can take an 8 week Sommelier course, ace the Master Sommelier quiz, and find yourself entrusted by Thomas Keller.

                                                            It takes years of study, travels, and it takes time to develop the sensibilities, or just get access to the variety of bottles required to become an expert at the French Laundry level. At FL you would also need relationships or at least an intimate knowledge of the wine producers, as well. A lot of the business is bs, and a lot of Sommeliers are bluffing, but it's educated bluffing. This is the premise you're supposed to be buying into when you spend French Laundry kind of dollars for a dinner.

                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                              I was thinking the other day that some of the really dedicated sommeliers and chefs probably have degrees/backgrounds in science/agriculture/botany/horticulture/food science etc. as a foundation to their expertise. I also imagine someone with those type of credentials would be globally renowned.

                                                              1. re: MamasCooking

                                                                MamasCooking: "... some of the really dedicated sommeliers and chefs probably have degrees/backgrounds in science/agriculture/botany/horticulture/food science etc. as a foundation to their expertise."

                                                                IIRC, Chris Kostow at Meadowood (Michelin ***) has a philosophy degree; and one of the best Bay Area wine merchants I dealt with (until she stepped out of the biz to become a full-time mom) had a literature degree, then took the CCA training as a professional cook, before pursuing her wine career.

                                                                But cooking, and serving or selling finished wines, are such deeply practical, specialized subjects they take years of hands-on practice for expertise, whatever your other training. Unlike winemakers (a species of ag. or food scientist), I don't hear of many somms or chefs getting related science training first (maybe because science training opens other career paths). Notable (because this synergism is so very rare) is Russ Parsons of the LA Times, one of very few people writing about food who also has a deep background in agriculture. That synergism shows in his books (which I often consult).

                                                                1. re: MamasCooking

                                                                  Well, much like Chefs, there are globally renowned Sommeliers and Wine pros within that community, and some are approaching this from an academic perspective, but most studies are apprenticeship based, and come from experience. Sommeliers do study though. There are governing bodies that certify titles like Master Sommelier, of which there are less than 200 people.

                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                    Yes that was my point a true expertise that is actually based on science and comprehensive education versus basics with the focus being on marketing for $$$$$. As far as the training for Sommeliers it seems as if it would be intense. Like a pharmacology course:)!

                                                                    1. re: MamasCooking

                                                                      I think a lot of the education is memory recall, developing the palate, and simply learning the tradition, but I don't think being a sommelier would qualify someone to make and modify their own wines. I think the science side of food and drink typically happens on the corporate food distributor side of things, and chains.

                                                                      Also, I think most people are used to encountering people doing a similar job under a similar title, but not the real deal.

                                                    2. 6 years ago when we went it was $50.

                                                      at least the food prices haven't tripled!

                                                      1. Interesting that uncorking a single bottle of wine at TFL is more than a year's pay in Cuba.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                          Plus, I guess it goes without saying, that a 20% tip (or more) will be expected on top of that. Talk about adding insult to injury......

                                                          1. re: grampart

                                                            The tip is included in the wine prices :)

                                                            1. re: grampart

                                                              Service is included in TFL's pricing for the meal & wine. I imagine it's also for the corkage.

                                                              That makes it $125 w/ a 20% tip ;-)

                                                              1. re: drewskiSF

                                                                I'll send a short wave to my QSL buddy in Cuba, they will be happier.

                                                          2. Just to close the circle on this, since I started the thread ... at FL I asked the somm why they didn't offer a wine pairing (I didn't want to spoil the mood by asking why their corkage fee went up to $150).

                                                            He said the menu changes every day, so it wouldn't make sense to offer a pairing. Also he said they felt they could pair the food quite well with their extensive listing of half-bottles and their by-the-glass options.

                                                            This didn't make a lot of sense to me since if you can pair via half-bottles (a couple would likely just get two half-bottles, I think) surely you can pair by the glass. But I didn't press it. Most of the other high-end restaurants also change parts of their menu often and still manage to concoct well-designed by-the-glass pairings.

                                                            My wife and I just had a glass of Chardonnay (one from Burgundy, the other from Napa) and a glass of Pinot (again, Burgundy vs CA ... interesting to see the differences in style with the same grape).

                                                            It's worth pointing out that we had very good wine parings at Atelier Crenn and Manresa the next two nights, spending quite a bit more on wine at each place than we spent at French Laundry.

                                                            1. OP here (again) ... I was looking up some average wine prices on wine-searcher.com and came across this article on FL corkage fees, "Does The French Laundry Have the World's Highest Corkage Fee?" The more outraged comments are kind of funny. Link below.

                                                              We were in Spain a few weeks ago, speaking of wines and wine prices. One place, a no-star seafood restaurant overlooking the docks in the fishing village of Getaria about 35 minutes outside of San Sebastian, has an absolutely amazing wine cellar, with mind-boggling prices. 40,000 bottles with all the great houses of Bordeaux and Burgundy represented plus of course Spain, with some bottles dating back to 1925 and many to the 1940's. A separate walk-in for champagnes.

                                                              Prices were usually lower than I would pay at my local retail wine shop (the excellent wine we drank was 60 euros or ~$82, available locally to me for $94 ... and went for 110 euros or $150 a couple nights later at Mugaritz, a much more famous restaurant). It seemed the prices were even better (more of a negative markup) for the more expensive wines.

                                                              For those who love great wines, check out the French whites like the Romanee-Conti Grand Cru on pages 16-17 (link below) or the Vega Silicia Unico Gran Reservas on pg 52 or the Burgundy and Bordeaux reds on pages 53-56, and compare to the average prices in the USA.

                                                              He had a photo of Robert Parker taken in his cellar when RP dined there ... I asked what Parker drank and he said a '62 Burgundy, since that's the year his wife was born.

                                                              I mentioned the French Laundry corkage fee and he said it was crazy, that if anyone brought their own bottle of wine to his restaurant he would open and pour it for them for free. He also said that because his prices were so low that he sold a LOT of wine. I like his attitude :)

                                                              Here's the link to the wine-searcher.com FL gripe: http://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2014/0...

                                                              Here's the wine list for the restaurant, Kaia-Kaipe (if you are familiar with the more famous restaurant Elkano in Getaria, this owner is the brother of the Elkano owner). http://www.youblisher.com/p/622456-Vi...

                                                              1. Did anyone read about the incident involving a patron, protesting this outrages corkage fee, brought a bottle of $2 jug wine from a nearby grocery store to the restaurant. The Sommelier 'insisted' that he taste the wine before serving it!! LOL!!

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                                                  I don't believe that actually happened. It was just a joke in this article:

                                                                  http://wine-searcher.com/magazine-art...