Are Restaurant Wine Lists Scary?

Well, the prices often are. You can find bottle prices running anywhere from two to five times the retail cost, and glasses of wine at about the retail cost. It’s never been a secret that wine prices help the profitability of restaurants. As we get back to normal from covid, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Pricing aside, unless you’re an oenophile, wine lists can be intimidating, particularly at a specialty restaurant. Let’s briefly examine one such example.

Don Pepe restaurant is a Newark institution. I’ve been there a couple of times on business pre-covid, and enjoyed the experience. Although the prices aren’t included, their wine list is available on their website. They are divided by Sangria, White, Red, Reserve, and Champagne. The Reserve wines include vintages as far back as 1970! And while most will recognize names such as Opus and Dominus on the Reserve list, wines like the Sorbo-A-Sorbo 2010 Lo Nuevo are a bit more under the radar. If you’re going to a restaurant that has an online wine list, you have time to do some homework.

Some years ago, early in my wine journey and before I started in the business, I had dinner at a particular Las Vegas restaurant. The massive wine list was brought to life in a four story, see-through wine cellar, where “wine angels” on wires will get your bottle in a most impressive way. Despite my limited knowledge, I was tasked with picking the wine, an $80 Zinfandel, that was still a winner with the guests. Considering that my choice was a complete guess, I got lucky.

Experts have a number of suggestions on how to navigate a restaurant wine list:

* Price and quality are typically not in direct proportion.

* Expect to pay about double the retail price.

* Ask the sommelier for suggestions

* Follow Steve’s Rule 1: Drink what you like

* Follow Steve’s Rule 2: Try something different

* Ask if the restaurant has “bin ends”, something left over from a previous version of their wine list

* Ask to have the wine on a separate check, so you can better manage the gratuity

As a general rule, I prefer a BYO restaurant, everything else being equal. Obviously, with the great selection that we have at Buy Rite, I can be ready for any kind of cuisine. But it’s also fun to be able to relax and let someone else do the work. As we see more of NJ open back up, we’re happy to support every restaurant that we can.

What we’re drinking this week: Montinore Pinot Noir. Made from a variety of sites in the Willamette Valley, this is an easy to enjoy, everyday kind of wine. Lots of ripe cherry, with a hint of plum. As an aside, Rudy Marchesi, one of the partners, is originally from New Jersey. This is on sale for $15.99.

Also available from Montinore: Reserve Pinot Noir, Vivace Sparkling, and Borealis White.

—Steve Wernick, Wine Manager

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