Clever life hack: order second cheapest bottle of wine at a restaurant. Wrong.
Restauranteurs have their own life hacks: put overpriced commodity wine at the bottom of the wine list. Often the second-lowest priced wine is even more inflated than the bottom feeder.
By the way, also avoid the highest priced wine. Often it’s there simply to show off; restaurant doesn’t expect to sell it except to customer who wants to show off. Vanity can be expensive.
You pay two, more likely three or more times as much for a bottle at the restaurant than you pay at your wine store. Restaurant is in business to make money; they have cost of inventory, stemware and cleaning, an excise tax they pay that you don’t, and other miscellaneous expenses. Cut them some slack.
Some restaurants abuse wine-buying patrons. Shun them. Better restaurants have a sommelier or knowledgable server who will work with your budget and pair you with something that can surprise and delight. Seek them.
Valid restaurant hack: If you will drink more than one glass, buy the bottle. Many restaurants cover their bottle cost by selling one—at the most two—of five glasses in a bottle. Codicil: by-the-glass offerings often fall into commodity wine categories; avoid them. With better pours, you do not know how long the bottle has been opened. Even with wine savers, wine declines.
Final note: you can play let’s make a deal. Some sommeliers will discount obscure wine to entice you to try it. If the restaurant staff works with you, take the deal. They wants you to have a great experience and come back. When you come back, they are even more likely to work with you.
• Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay California 2015: Serviceable commodity wine often found on wine lists; simple, clean, drinkable. Focus on price for your decision. $5-7 (.750), $10-12 (1.5) Link to review
• Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling Washington State 2015: Food friendly; semi-dry; pairs with Mexican food. $11-13 Link to review
Last round: I spend half my day wondering if it is too late to drink coffee and the other half wondering if it is too early to drink wine.