The Price of Wine
Paul V. Hartman

An Obsolete Tradition Keeps Restaurant Wine Prices High

  Some years back, when American wines were infrequently seen, up scale restaurants brought wine over from France and Italy, usually the better vintages, which, if unsold, could wither in value in the restaurant cellar. A tradition was established that the restaurant price for a bottle would be twice the retail price in America, to cover the possibility of unused inventory of the pricey, older vintages.

  Increasingly, American wines from California, Oregon, and Washington are supplanting those from Europe, with virtually foolproof vintages, abundant supply, and lower price. What is more, they are drinkable when bottled, not requiring long-term storage to reduce the bitterness of tannins. There is, therefore, no longer much risk of being stuck with inventory.

  Accordingly, although the practice of charging twice retail continues, in the opinion of this critic, such pricing can no longer be declared "fair" for wines of American origin. Of course, there are many restaurants which depend on alcohol sales to cover competitive pricing of the food. For those patrons for which price is a determinant in restaurant selection, they will not drink the wine at all.

  I recommend that restaurant managers begin to price American wine at one and a half times the "list" price. This will still produce profits on the beverage portion of the total bill and not annoy regular wine drinkers, such as myself, who prefer to heighten a dining experience with the addition of a couple of different wines.