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Category Archives: Wine advice

Restaurant wine prices: A better way

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Restaurant wine pricesWhat better way to follow up this month’s very popular post about escalating restaurant wine prices than with a story about restaurants that charge reasonable prices and sell more wine — and make more money — in the process? That was the theme of my piece in the current issue of the Beverage Media trade magazine, where one restaurateur told me: “We want our customers to be able to have dinner for two with a glass of wine each for $35 a person.”

Revolutionary thinking in a world where glass of wine costs $10 and bottles are marked up four times their wholesale price, no?

The highlights of the article, as well as a few of my thoughts:

• The debate centers around volume vs. margin; that is, does the restaurant want to sell a lot of wine, or is its business model focused on the amount it makes per bottle? This margin approach, which has been the model most restaurants use, has given us the $10 glass. Not surprisingly, those who use it still see no reason to change.

• Yet an increasing number of restaurants see a better way. “There is sort of this infrequently spoken gripe from consumers: ‘Why are we paying these kinds of markups?’… [T]hey are going to be cynical about your wine program.” says Stan Frankenthaler, chief officer of food, beverage and strategic supply for CraftWorks, which operates about 200 restaurants under 11 brands, including Old Chicago and Rock Bottom. That someone at a chain said this speaks to the failure of the margin model, since chains have some of the worst and most marked-up wine lists.

• A better approach: Pricing tiers, like 4 times wholesale, 2½ times, and 2 times, based on quality and availability. If the wine is difficult to find, for instance, or offers exceptional value, we’re more likely to pay 4 times markup — and especially if we have legitimate, less expensive choices instead of grocery store wine masquerading as something else.

• This story includes advice from my pal Diane Teitelbaum, who died shortly after I interviewed her. “You can sell a $100 bottle once a day, or you can sell $20 bottles of wine all day and all night,” she told me. No wonder everyone misses her so much.

 

 

Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux

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winespeakBecause the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Wine Curmudgeon:
You use the term structure for wine, which sounds like a lot of jargon to me. What does structure mean?
Confused by language

Dear Confused:
Think of a wine’s structure like the structure of a house. A house has to have a foundation, a floor, and a roof. Leave one of those things out, and you don’t have much of a house. A wine, regardless of price, needs structure, too, and that includes tannins, fruit, and acidity in the proper proportions. Leave one of those out, and it’s like a house with a crappy roof — livable, but why would you want to?

Hey Curmudge:
Where do you buy your wine? I know you try to find wines that are available, but how do you do it?
Curious consumer

Dear Curious:
I’m one of the few wine writers in the country who buys wine to review, and it’s probably more than half the wines I do. The rest come from samples that producers send, and that number has fallen significantly since the recession. I shop for wine at least once a week in two or three places. I go to grocery stores like Kroger and Albertson’s, independent wine shops (Jimmy’s and Pogo’s are two of the best), chain wine shops (we have Spec’s and Total Wine in Dallas), and specialty stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and World Market. That way, I can compare prices, see who has what, and talk to retailers and customers. I enjoy this, not only because it’s part of a job that I like, but because I come from a long line of retailers, and learned to appreciate this stuff when I was a kid.

Jeff:
I have tried a few red Bordeauxs, and most are not very good in the $10-$20 range. I like many California cabernet sauvignons and red blends, and am not put off by the “earthiness” of French wines. But most of the Bordeauxs I’ve tried are just harsh and bitter. Any suggestions for reasonably priced Bordeaux would be appreciated.
Searching for French value

Dear Searching:
You aren’t alone — Bordeaux has priced most wine drinkers out of its market, whether from greed, infatuation with China, or French stubbornness. It’s almost impossible to find quality red Bordeaux for less than $20 a bottle, as you note (Chateau Bonnet and one or two others being the exception). Instead, we get poorly made wine, whether with unripe grapes or raw tannins — just like the bad old days. Ironically, we talked about this in my El Centro class last week, that the wines that most Americans used to drink to learn about wine are now too expensive for most Americans to drink.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews
Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, mold

Dessert wine basics

wineadvice

dessert wine basicsDessert wine is the great mystery of the wine business, usually associated with “dotty old ladies or rich men with English accents,” as I wrote in the current issue of Bottom Line Personal (which has bought quite a bit of freelance from me lately). Give that I have done very little with dessert wine over the blog’s history, this piece gives me an opportunity to correct that oversight.

Highlights from the piece (click the link to the story for recommendations):

• The most common dessert wines are ports from Portugal and sherries from Spain, but dessert wines are made wherever wine is produced, from Australia to Canada to Hungary. Port and sherry are made with wine grapes, though port uses red grapes and sherry white. There are dry sherries, such as fino, but all port is sweet.

• International law doesn’t allow most ports or sherries made anywhere else in the world to be called by those names, so non-Portuguese ports and non-­Spanish sherries will be labeled as “dessert wine,” “port-style,” “sherry-style” or something similar.

• The production techniques for port and sherry are much more complicated than those for table wine and involve long aging (often years) and the addition of brandy or other alcohol to fortify them. That’s why they’re also called fortified wines.

• Dessert wines aren’t cheap, and some, like Sauternes, can cost hundreds of dollars (which may explain their absence here). But since a dessert wine serving is less than a table wine serving, one or two small glasses of port or sherry or whatever are more than sufficient. That means a $20 half-bottle can be the equivalent of a $10 or $15 full bottle of table wine.

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