"Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating, and to me as necessary."
- Ernest Hemingway "A Moveable Feast."
Every girl (of legal kvetching age) is entitled to a little whine on her birthday, and this is mine, so here I go.
Every time I have dinner in a restaurant where the wine prices are double and triple what you'd pay for the bottle off a store shelf, I feel like I'm acquiescing to being ripped off.
If I'm charged $38 for a $13.49 bottle of Las Moras Malbec Reserva, or $42 for a $16.99 bottle of Wolf Blass Yellow Label, or an astounding $48 for an $11.76 bottle of KWV Chenin Blanc - and these are actual prices from St. John's restaurants - good manners dictate that I smile and say thank you as I fork over more than I should of my hard-earned cash.
That same $48 bottle of KWV Chenin Blanc, by the way, is being sold for $8.41 per glass in one restaurant. At eight three-ounce glasses per bottle, that generates a total of $67.28 - a tidy profit indeed on the $11.76 shelf price.
Of course, no one forces a gun to my head and makes me order a bottle of wine, or wine by the glass. I am there of my own free will.
And yes, restaurants have to make a buck, too. I understand that. St. John's offers rich and varied opportunities for fine dining which I enjoy as often as I can.
But restaurants could go a little easier on the markup and potentially make more money. Imagine the scenario with lower prices: why, that Cabernet Sauvignon was so reasonably priced and delicious, I think I'll order another bottle for my table and, what the heck, we'll have dessert, too.
Wine lovers, often, are food lovers. The pairing of wine and food is like a good marriage - each supports the other and complements the other's strengths. So people who eat at restaurants often enjoy wine with their food.
But the food can leave a nasty taste in your mouth when you know the wine it's served with has been priced beyond what is reasonable.
Asking too much
Why should we be expected to pay $50 for a Mark West Chardonnay that costs $18.49? Why is there a need to make $31.51 in profit on one bottle of wine?
And by-the-glass prices are worse. Seven dollars for a glass of wine from a bottle that costs less than $12? Please.
True, the restaurant has to suck up valuable space storing and chilling wine, and there is extra work involved in serving it - bringing ice buckets, offering a sample taste for the patron's approval and pouring at least the first couple of glasses.
And some fine dining restaurants hire sommeliers to develop wine lists and help patrons make informed choices.
But what we're being asked to pay, in many instances, is completely over the top.
And I'm not alone in thinking this way. Far from it.
Prices at our fingertips
As Gretchen Roberts writes in the May 7, 2010 online edition of Wine Enthusiast Magazine:
"In a recent survey of consumers' wine-buying habits in restaurants, Julie Brosterman, CEO of WomenWine.com, found that 70 per cent of respondents felt restaurant wine prices were too high.
"'People are savvier about wine markups than they used to be,' Brosterman says. 'They know retail prices, and they can look up wine prices on their BlackBerrys while sitting in the restaurant.'"
Yes we can. And the results of that search can cause out-and-out indigestion.
On a recent trip to England, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised to find reasonably priced wine on the menu in pubs and fine dining establishments alike.
Often, the bottle cost only a couple of pounds more than it did in the store.
And in many pubs, there were great deals - buy two glasses of wine and get the rest of the bottle for free was common. After all, at the price charged per glass, the cost of the bottle is more than covered after two glasses are sold. Rather than risk the rest of the wine not being sold and going off, they gave it to their patrons.
And you didn't have to consume it on the spot - you could plunk the bottle into your purse and take it home with you.
Infinitely reasonable, but you can't do that here.
Pubs there also provided more information than we often do about their wine lists, and often offered wine suggestions matched with items on their menu.
A wide array of reasonably priced wines were often grouped under descriptive headings, such as "crisp and dry," or "full-bodied and fruity."
There are pubs in this city that still don't have decent wine glasses, let alone decent wine lists.
I love dining out and I'll keep ordering wine when I do. But I think there's room for restaurants to meet patrons halfway and ease up on the markup.
No one likes to feel gouged.
News of a restaurant with decent wine prices would spread like wildfire among wine lovers.
But until there are more of them, I'll be cooking at home more often and popping a cork or two.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton