Dealing With Ridiculous Restaurant Wine Prices

Coming up in the May edition of The Grapevine, the official online publication of the wine clubs of Vinesse, club members will read a story dealing with the dos and don’ts of ordering wine in a restaurant.

It’s really not as complicated as the ceremonial depictions in movies and on TV, and it’s not even necessary to smell the cork–which is fortunate, considering so many wines now are sealed with cork alternatives.

That story deals largely with etiquette. Since there wasn’t enough space available, it did not deal with wine ordering strategy. That is today’s topic here on

If you’re like me, you probably gulp or gasp when you take a look at the prices on some wine lists. Personally, I have a problem with being asked to pay a hundred bucks for a bottle of wine that I know I could buy for one-quarter that amount at retail or through our club.

What to do?

My strategy is three-fold:

  1. Look for an alternate variety on the wine list. Most of those obscene prices are placed upon Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, since they are the most popular reds these days, and most good lists will include other options. A Malbec from Argentina or a Tempranillo from Spain would be good alternatives, and may even be better food-pairing partners.
  2. If you’ve been to the restaurant before and you know the wine prices are high, ask about its corkage policy when you make your reservation. Even when the corkage is as high as $30 (another pet peeve for another journal entry), you can still save a lot of money when you bring your own bottle.
  3. Order iced tea instead. And before you leave, be sure to seek out the owner or manager, and let them know why you didn’t order a bottle of wine. If enough diners voted with their wallets, restaurant owners would get the message. A reasonable mark-up on wine is appropriate, especially if the restaurant provides nice stemware. Too often, however, the prices charged in restaurants for wine are just ridiculous.
Posted in Editor's Journal
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