Following our foray into the liquor store business, we became acutely aware of wholesale, retail and restaurant bottle pricing and markup; what a bottle cost from a distributor, what our markup needed to be to keep the store profitable, and how those same bottles are marked up 100% to 400% in a restaurant setting. This knowledge makes paying $75 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant that I know to cost $25 in a retail store hard to swallow.
To celebrate our anniversary one year, we went to a nice restaurant and began the festivities by perusing the wine list. Several familiar wines we buy in the $15 to $20 retail price range are included on the wine menu at $40 to $50. Some things I wish I didn’t know. But on special occasions, you tell yourself to let go and live a little.
When you order wine at a restaurant, part of the justification for the pricing is the wine service. The wine steward helps you navigate the wine menu to choose something you’ll like that pairs well with your meal. He or she sets up your glassware and shows you the bottle at your table before opening it. A good wine server will open the bottle with showmanship, deftly plying his corkscrew like a sculptor wielding his chisel. A small amount of wine is poured for you to verify that it hasn’t spoiled. He serves you just the right amount in your glass, and for whites, chills the wine to the proper temperature for the duration of the meal. The formality of serving wine helps to bolster the quality of the dining experience.
For our special occasion, we order a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile that we haven’t tried before. Large red wine glasses are set, and the waiter brings the greatly anticipated wine to the table. With a quick turn of the wrist, he twists open the screw cap. Oh, the injustice. He finishes serving the wine, but the disappointment in the screw cap, in place of a cork, casts a pall on the remainder of the wine ceremony.
Corks for wines have been used for centuries. Wine bottles may be stopped with natural cork produced from the bark of trees or synthetic corks made from plastic compounds. Natural cork is harvested from tree bark without cutting down the tree, enabling a sustainable production. Cork is also easily recyclable. The downside of cork is that it’s expensive and can sometimes adversely affect the wine in a chemical reaction commonly known as cork taint. Synthetic corks are cheaper to produce and aren’t susceptible to cork taint, however, some wine drinkers believe that they impart a slight chemical flavor to the wine.
While the screw cap is generally associated with cheap wine, it isn’t necessarily so. Screw caps are favored by winemakers from Australia and New Zealand for their cost-effectiveness and ability to keep wine fresh. Quality testing has shown that screw caps work perfectly well at preventing oxidation and protecting from cork taint. But even though the scientists have given the screw cap a “pass”, its public image is still perceived as cheap. Most folks just don’t want their fine, expensive wines to open with a screw cap.