Getting the Most for Your Money
Money is often the top priority when choosing a wine. If you had unlimited financial resources, you could order anything that struck your fancy. If you didn't care for it, you could order something else. For most of us, the goal is to get the best possible wine for the most reasonable price — in other words, the best value for your money.
How Restaurants Price Wines
Pricing policies are as different as the restaurants themselves, but here's a general rule of thumb: If the wholesale price of a bottle of wine is $10, a retail wine shop will charge $15. A typical restaurant will charge $20 to $30 for the same bottle.
The markups vary from wine to wine — the biggest markups being at the low and high ends of the list. At the low end, the wines are cash cows. Some customers want their wine and they want it cheap, and they're not too picky about what they get. This clientele practically keeps the restaurant open.
At the other end of the list, you have a different scenario. The restaurant is selling either to the extremely well-heeled or to expense account diners who are indifferent to what the wine costs. At the middle of the list, the wines usually have lower markups, and that is where you tend to find the best values.
Some restaurants — especially those committed to encouraging the public to drink wine — have another approach. Their objective is to get their customers to try higher quality wines, and they achieve this through a pricing strategy of adding about $10 to the retail price of the wine. Even with these modest markups, the restaurant still makes money, and it attracts faithful customers.
Flights of wine are small tastes of wine (about two ounces each) served by a restaurant as a series. The four to six offerings are often based on a theme — Italian reds, for example, or whites with oak or wines with funny names. The purpose is to present wine lovers with an opportunity to experiment with new wines at a reasonable cost.
More Tips for the Value Conscious
No one wants to be regarded as a cheapskate, but common sense dictates that if you maximize value, you can order more bottles for less money. Here are some ways to do that:
Unless you're familiar with the house wine, skip it in favor of something else. The restaurant probably bought it on the basis of price and gave it the highest markup.
Buy by the bottle. A standard bottle contains four to six glasses of wine, depending on the size of the pour. Once you've purchased three wines by the glass, you've paid for a whole bottle.
Choose a wine from the same region as the restaurant's food specialty. A good Italian restaurant, for example, will have a creative — and usually value priced — selection of Italian wines.
Look for varietals that aren't all the current rage. Chardonnays, Cabs, and Merlots have been hot sellers in the past and have commanded higher dollars. Cast your eyes elsewhere for varietals such as Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Malbec.
Experiment with wines from parts of the world where the land itself is less expensive (and, hence, the end cost of the wine is less expensive). A perfect place to start is South America, home to Chile and Argentina.