Tag Archives: restaurant wine

winerant

Drop dead, restaurant wine prices

restaurant wine prices
Restaurant wine prices are too high, which prevents restaurants from selling more wine and restaurant customers from drinking more wine. Everyone understands this but restaurants (see the cheap wine book and various academic studies); nevertheless, the people who run them seem content to charge higher prices, sell less wine, and make even less money.

The Wine Curmudgeon was reminded of this again on Saturday night during dinner at Urbano’s, probably Dallas’ best-known BYOB restaurant and where the food is more or less moderately priced. During the 2 ½ hours we were there, everyone was drinking wine, most of the tables had more than one bottle (including sparkling and rose, not a common sight), and hardly any of the wine I saw was grocery store plonk. The table next to us, in fact, came prepared with a very expensive wine carryall that contained several pricey bottles.

What was the reason for all that wine? Urbano’s charges $5 per bottle for corkage, so no one had to pay $50 for a bottle from a mediocre wine list. Instead, a table of of four will spend $10 at Urbano’s for two bottles of wine, cutting the bill by at least one-third.

The caveats? Urbano is small, with fewer than a couple of dozen tables, and its reputation as BYOB means it attracts wine drinkers. But given the traditional Dallas antipathy to wine – the bottle at my table when I go out usually gets more than a few stares from the sweet tea drinkers – every table at Urbano’s that had wine speaks volumes about the difference price makes. Because, as our waitress told me, 80 percent of their customers bring their own wine.

So, once again, a plea for fair restaurant wine pricing. I don’t expect wine so cheap that it competes with retail pricing. But would it be so awful if restaurants only doubled the price of the bottle that cost them $10 instead of tripling it?

wine news

Winebits 432: Small Wine, wine education, restaurant wine

Small wine

I’d like a bottle of Rhone Rangers, please.

Not so fast, Big Wine: A group of Australian family producers, angered by Big Wine companies who market their “family” roots, have issued a furious denunciation of the practice. “I’m really sick of the latest trend for corporate misuse of the term ‘family’ when promoting wine brands that were sold by the family founders eons ago and conning wine loving consumers and trade alike,” Robert Hill-Smith, the fifth-generation vigneron at Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, Yalumba, told the The Weekend Australian newspaper. Hill-Smith said Big Wine subsidiaries portraying themselves as family companies undermined the validity of family-owned businesses actually owned by families. This is a fascinating story; wineries never air this sort of thing in public, though they say it in private all the time. It also speaks to Big Wine’s need not to be seen as big, something that never seems to bother General Foods or Procter & Gamble. Why that is I’ll leave to the experts.

Score one for the Italians:  The Wine Curmudgeon regularly bemoans the lack of wine education in the U.S., which is why this Italian proposal is so impressive: Children 6 to 13 would spend one hour a week learning about Italy’s wine industry as part of the national education curriculum. “We’re not trying to teach kids to drink – although even if we were it wouldn’t be so bad,” said the sponsor of the legislation. “It’s been shown that knowledge creates responsible drinkers. But this is just an extra subject that will enrich the education of our students. We make children study music in school without expecting them to become musicians.” Hopefully, the various neo-Prohibitionists who are trying to roll back U.S. drinking laws will note this and pause for a moment.

Won’t they ever learn? A website called Elite Daily, with 2.8 million Facebook likes, ran a piece about how to buy wine in a restaurant and impress your date in the process. The story, supposedly written with advice from a top wine retailer, repeats almost every misconception about restaurant wine I have lamented since the blog started. Gruner veltliner! Plus, it recommends buying white wine from France’s Loire, which is a wonderful idea save for the fact that many wine lists, and especially those at mid-priced restaurants, have little, if any, white Loire. Or we should buy cabernet franc from Spain, which hardly exists. Or we should buy a wine called Rhone Rangers, which is not a wine, but a group of producers in California who make wines with Rhone grapes. Maybe we can enroll the people at Elite Daily in the Italian school wine educations classes.

wine news

Winebits 429: Vinho verde, restaurant wine, robots

vinho verde review 2013Quality cheap wine: The U.S. has become the world’s biggest export market for vinho verde, the green, slightly fizzy wine from Portugal. This isn’t that surprising, given the U.S. desire for quality cheap wine and the Portuguese effort to to upgrade vinho verde quality over the past decade. The wines are much better made than they were when I started tasting them all those years ago, and prices are still mostly the same. One odd bit in the release, though: “As producers throughout the region revamped and upgraded their wineries, many went a step further adding boutique hotels, day spas and tasting rooms to accommodate the growing number of visitors.” Who knew day spas were such a factor in wine consumption?

Expensive California wine: Our wine drinking colleagues in Great Britain have a difficult time finding affordable California wine, reports Harry Fawkes in Decanter. We know about that, don’t we? Fawkes writes about am especially hip London wine bar, where “all the wines that looked interesting from the USA were over fifty pounds, which even for an enthusiast, is a high price to experiment.” Or, about US$70, which is more than even we’re asked to pay here. Fawkes says the high prices were caused by taxes and distribution costs, but mostly because California producers don’t have any incentive to sell wine overseas since they sell most of what they make here. Which, oddly, are the same reasons that are cited here.

I, Winemaking robot: An Italian researcher has invented a robot that makes wine, writes Thomas Pellechia in Forbes. No, it doesn’t look like one of Will Smith’s pals (or Isaac Asimov’s, for that matter). Instead, it’s more like an intelligent wine tank, named Genesis and that holds one-quarter ton of grapes. Genesis crushes, ferments, and adjusts the grapes inside itself, using software designed by the researcher, Donato Lanati. This raises a variety of questions: Does Genesis have a subscription to the Wine Spectator so it knows what’s current with the critics? Was it designed to know to add Mega Purple? And what does it think about terroir? Which gives the Wine Curmudgeon something to ponder as I sip my next Italian wine: Do Data and Picard discuss terroir?

 

winerant

Four things that would make wine more fun to drink

wine

“Why didn’t the label say this was a sweet red wine?”

Four things that would make wine more fun to drink after a summer and fall spent traveling and tasting, because I really don’t want to have so many wine complaints:

? Better restaurant wine pricing. I mention this yet again not because I expect it to change, but because so few people in the restaurant business truly understand. I had a restaurateur approach me at a recent event to tell me how wonderful her wine list was. “We’re the only restaurant in this area that cares about wine,” she said. The list? Not awful, and even a couple of interesting bottles, but every wine, even the $8 Big Wine riesling, was marked up at least three times. This restaurant in a tiny town in Arizona was charging $40 for crappy grocery store wine, and the woman was proud of the list. How am I supposed to answer that?

? Back label honesty. I did a tasting this week for cheap holiday wines for a Dallas publication, and what struck me — besides how awful so many of the wines were — was how little the back label description had to do with what the wine tasted like. Soft, syrupy cabernet sauvignons without any tannins were described as elegant, while chardonnay made with so much fake oak that it hurt to swallow were said to be rich and full bodied. How about truth in labeling: “We made this wine to hit a certain price, and it really doesn’t taste like much, but what do you expect for $8?”

? If the wine is sweet, call it sweet. Why does the wine business insist on confusing consumers by leaving sweet off the label when the wine is sweet? I realize that the industry has taught “real” wine drinkers that sweet wine is inferior, and that only old ladies with cats drink it. But I’m tired of tasting wine labeled as dry that is sweet, and I have heard from many consumers who feel the same way. Besides, isn’t it possible that sweet wine labeled sweet would sell better?

? Lidl can’t get to the U.S.too soon. The German discount grocer, known for its quality cheap wines, broke ground on a U.S. distribution center last month, and should start opening stores in the next couple of years. If Lidl does wine in the U.S. the way it does in Europe, those of us who care about cheap wine will have an alternative to the wines in the second item in this post. Or, as my brother emailed me during a trip to Europe, “Love Lidl — great wine selection.”

For more on making wine more fun:
? Wine education: Four things you don’t need to know about wine
? Five things that make me crazy when I buy wine
? Five things the wine business can do to help consumers figure out wine

wine news

Winebits 404: Restaurant wine, distributors, direct shipping

restaurant wine ? One person’s inexpensive: One more example of how restaurants are out of touch with their customers when it comes to restaurant wine prices. This new Dallas restaurant is boasting about its reasonably-priced list, because, said a restaurant official, “We have a low mark up on our wines, so we ?re priced fantastic.” That would be a wine list with most wines supposedly costing less than $100 (no website for the restaurant yet, so I couldn’t check). What would the official have said if there had been really expensive wines on the list? Is it any wonder, unless there’s a special reason to go, that the Wine Curmudgeon has all but abandoned Dallas’ restaurants? Besides, it’s more fun eating at home.

? Bigger and bigger: It’s not just wine companies that are getting bigger, but distributors as well. Wine Industry Insight reports that the 10 biggest distributors in the country control more than two-thirds of the wholesale business, which makes the group more or less as dominant as Big Wine. Why does that matter to consumers? Because, thanks to three-tier, every wine sold to a retailer or a restaurant in the U.S. has to pass through a distributor, which tacks on as much as 25 percent to the cost of the bottle for their effort. Fewer and bigger distributors means less competition, which means that percentage won’t get any smaller any time soon.

? Best practices: Want to know how to help your wine survive shipment, whether it comes directly from the winery or from an online or local retailer? This list, from Entrepreneur magazine, hits the highlights nicely, emphasizing how little wine likes heat, vibrations, and being left on a delivery truck all day. One overlooked point: Give the wine, particularly the pricier bottles, a chance to recover from the trip. The bottles need to rest after being bumped across the country, and letting them sit in a cool, dark room for a week or so isn’t a bad idea.

rests

Dallas’ Lucia, restaurant wine, and doing it right

lucia restaurant wineRegular visitors here know that the Wine Curmudgeon dislikes restaurant wine almost as much as he dislikes oaky, alcoholic chardonnay. So it’s a pleasure — no, a duty — to let the world know when restaurant wine is done the right way.

That would be at Lucia in Dallas, an Italian-inspired restaurant in the city’s hip Bishop Arts neighborhood. Full disclosure: Jennifer Uygur, who owns Lucia with chef husband David, is a friend of mine. But, and she will be the first to tell you, I wouldn’t write this unless her wine list deserved high praise — almost all Italian, small but extensive, fairly priced, interesting, and missing the distributor-driven junk that even lists that get a Wine Spectator award have. It also has a Texas wine, which shows Jennifer’s commitment to doing things the right way.

Almost half the 50 wines cost around $50 or less, and the markups on most seem to be about two to one retail. This should be standard practice in the restaurant business, but it isn’t, something I have lamented many times. The list also reflects Jennifer’s wide-ranging taste, in which she wants not just quality, but something that is fun and different and a treat for her customers. What’s the point of wine otherwise?

We had two wines: First, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle ($48 restaurant, purchased, 12%), made with a grape, pri blanc, from a region called Vallee D’Aoste, neither of which I had ever heard of. It’s a white with austere white fruit and lots of minerality, but it’s about more than a clean mouth feel. There is an almost chardonnay-like richness, which adds complexity and gives the wine something that’s as enjoyable as it is difficult to describe.

Second, Nervi Bianca ($52 restaurant, purchased, 12%), a white from Piedmont made with the erbaluce grape. Yes, I’ve heard of Piedmont, but the grape was a new one, and the region is much better known for its reds than its whites. The best way to describe the Nervi? Think of an Italian pinot grigio, but one with character, fresh white fruit, crispness, and minerality, absent the fussy tonic water aftertaste of pinot grigio.

Finally, the food was stunning. It reflects David Uygur’s Italian influences, his skill as a chef, and the idea that the food should be something for customers to eat and not something to help the chef get a TV show. Know two things: We had tajarin, thin, small egg noodles, with house-cured anchovies, toasted bread crumbs, and herbs that was one of the best things I’ve had in my life even though I don’t like anchovies; and there was no tomato sauce on the menu. None. At all. In Dallas, that’s close to heresy.

wine advice

Ask the WC 8: Restaurant wine, storing wine, sparkling wine

wine advice Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask me a wine-related question .

Jeff:
I agree with you about restaurant wine prices. Even though I want wine with my meal, I rarely order it when I eat out. First, the cost of a glass of wine in a restaurant is two-thirds of the price of a bottle in a store. Second, with few exceptions, wine lists offer very little, if any, local wine, and the wines they do offer are unimaginative grocery store wines. Why don’t restaurants listen to consumers, or their consultants? The consultants tell them this, don’t they?
Frustrated in Texas

Dear Frustrated:
Ironically, I had a similar conversation with an executive at a major U.S. wine company the other day. You’d think, he said, since almost every restaurant that lowers prices sells more wine, that everyone would lower prices. Instead, he said, restaurants seem to be focused on revenue, where they don’t care if they sell less wine because they think higher prices will make up the difference in sales. This approach didn’t make much sense to either of us, but what do we know?

?

Dear Curmudgeon:
With all the screwcaps and synthetic corks these days, is it still necessary to store wine with the neck tilting down? And is there a period of time where traditionally corked wine can be stored standing up?
A standup wine drinker

Dear Standup:
Wines with cork closures are stored on their sides to prevent the cork from drying out. Since a screwcap or synthetic won’t dry out, you can store it anyway you want (as long as you keep the wine away from light, heat, and vibrations). Having said that, and to answer the second part of your question, most wine can be stored standing up, regardless of closure, since you’re probably going to drink it long before it matters how it was stored. One of my favorite wine statistics: as much as 90 percent of the wine that is bought is consumed with 24 hours, making storage irrelevant.

?

Hey Curmudge:
Enlightened wine drinkers know that white wines are at their best when poured at a few degrees above refrigerator temp. Ergo, shouldn ?t the same apply to sparkling wines and Champagnes? So when people get the juice as cold as possible and then make an effort to keep things that way by shuttling the opened bottle back and forth to fridge or ice bucket, is that not counterproductive?
Love those bubbles

Dear Bubbles:
You asked something I have never thought about, figuring white wine was white wine. However, most of the sources I consulted said bubbly should be a little cooler than non-sparkling white wine — mid-40s F vs. low- to mid-50s F. No one quite knew why (I’m assuming it has something to do with the bubbles), but this gives me an opportunity for a class project in the fall when I teach at El Centro. We can do a temperature tasting.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
? Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux
? Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
? Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews