As a wine consumer, I have a love/hate relationship with fine-dining restaurants — the kind that have outstanding wine lists to complement their exceptional food.
I love them because, in most cases, the wines are curated by a sommelier who works with the chef to create amazing food and wine pairing partnerships. For a wine lover, nothing is as satisfying as taking a bite of food, and following it with a sip of wine that is absolutely simpatico.
But those perfect pairings come with a price, which is passed along to the diner in the form of wine bottle prices that often are higher than the cost of two or three dinners combined. Put simply, a good bottle of wine at a fine-dining restaurant will typically double the total tab — and sometimes triple it, or worse.
That’s the reason I’ve long supported and heaped praise upon restaurants that allow diners to bring in their own bottles for a modest charge, known as a corkage fee. Depending on the city and the restaurant, that fee can range from $5 to $50. I’d say $20 to $25 has become fairly typical. It’s a good way for a diner to enjoy a special wine without having to pay double or triple the retail price (or more).
But now I’m hearing that some consumers are taking advantage of those reasonable corkage fees by carrying anything-but-special bottles with them — wines that likely wouldn’t match up to the restaurant’s signature dishes. As a result, instead of a truly mind-blowing culinary experience, they’re getting only about 50 percent of such an experience.
It’s easy to see why some sommeliers are not only saddened, but also a little bit ticked off by the practice. After all, they are employed not only to ensure that the wine list includes selections to complement the food menu, but also to sell wine.
Some are reacting by increasing the restaurant’s corkage fee. I’ve heard of some as high as $150.
As consumers, we need to meet restaurateurs halfway. If a fine-dining establishment provides the opportunity for us to bring in our own wine, the least we can do is make it a special bottle.