Tim Harford writes a column in the weekend FT called “Dear Economist: Resolving readers’ dilemmas with the tools of Adam Smith.” This week he takes up the topic of wine thanks to a letter from a student who wants to impress his girlfriend in a restaurant despite being on a budget. Here’s Harford’s advice:
You assume that the price of the wine and its quality can be neatly separated out. This seems reasonable, but is wrong. Price changes the very experience of quality. Neuro-economists have found, for instance, that while placebo painkillers work, they work best if the subject thinks they are expensive. Energy drinks give you less energy if you buy them at a discount. (Yes, really.) And of course, wine tastes better if you believe that it is expensive.
One possibility is to conceal the price of wine from your girlfriend and tell her you’re buying the expensive stuff when in fact you are buying the house red. This is a white lie: many people prefer the taste of cheap wine in blind tastings, and by claiming it is expensive you will quite genuinely improve the way she thinks it tastes.
Perhaps. But buying expensive wine might make the student look profligate. Or like a chump since price is actually an unreliable indicator of a wine’s quality especially as there are so many values in the market today. And, if caught, passing off Prosecco at vintage Champagne prices might deflate more than the bubbles on the table.
In fact, there are other ways for this student to impress rather than price: I say choose a restaurant with a good wine list, order a Zweigelt, an easy-drinking red from Austria that suffers a discount because nobody thinks they can pronounce it, or a lip-smacking, natural cru Beaujolais. After she has tried it and loves it, tell her the wine is a steal. Or go to a nice BYOB and scope out something at a good shop beforehand. You don’t have to be an economist to think that finding a terrific wine value is pretty damn sexy.
What’s your advice?
I stopped by SD26 on a recent weeknight and things were hopping. The restaurant, opened on Madison Square in September to the tune of $7 million, boasts a wine bar in the front. Tony May, who previously owned the traditional San Domenico, told the New York Times that with SD26 “We aim for the cutting edge.”
Sustainable wine? Organic wine? Been there, drank that. Now: Mafia-free wine! The Sicilian label, Libra Terra, will guarantee that pasta, olive oil and wine will have the “taste of freedom.” [Global Post]
SIPPED: American wine
The White House continues pouring only American wines, so far from four states at official events. The first state dinner is coming up next month–stay tuned for what the Obamas pick for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh! [Obamafoodarama]
SPIT: American wine; SIPPED: generosity
While dining in lower Manhattan last weekend, Chief Justice John Roberts and his wife Jane sipped a bottle of Villa Mangiacane, a Chianti. When they finished their meal, they offered the rest of the wine to a neighboring table, specifically, Gay Talese who blogged about it for City Room.
SIPPED: wine service tips
A budding restaurateur offers his first 50 service tips for his staff, including several wine related ones including “For red wine, ask if the guests want to pour their own or prefer the waiter to pour.” [You’re the Boss, NYT]
SPIT: old vines; SIPPED: apartment complex
Philip White, a wine writer in Australia, has a scathing critique of Constellation, one of the world’s largest wine makers and marketers, and their apparent plans to scale back in Australia. Particularly irksome to him was the uprooting of John Reynell’s 161-year-old vines at Reynella; 41 “tiny apartments” will replace the vines. [INDAILY]
With restaurant markups commonly 300 or 400 percent you could be forgiven for answering, “never.” But right now, there’s a restaurant in NYC where the head sommelier is clearing out his inventory. Unfortunately, he’s already blown through most of the wines that cost him less than $300. But for all (both?) the high rollers out there, the wines that he bought for north of $300 and he has multiple bottles of, he’s happy to part with them for as little as $100 above his cost. As silly as it sounds, that means that a wine that costs $750 a bottle in a store might only cost $600 at the restaurant!
Consider another example. The sommelier told me that one patron wanted to spend $900 on the Domaine Romanee Conti, Grands Echezaux, 2005. But the sommelier asked him if he would like a better wine that’s drinking better now, the DRC, La Tache, 2006 for $750. The diner readily accepted. Fancy that, a downsell! (is that even a word?)
The price reductions are indicated not on the wine list, however. The somm told me that he gives them mainly to regulars or “people who seem nice.” So if you have an anniversary, marriage proposal, big birthday, or other celebratory event coming up no matter which fine restaurant you’re in, it might not hurt to indicate your (high) price point and ask if that’s the most exciting thing in that vein (cough**cough**price) on the wine list.
Unfortunately, the sommelier requested anonymity since he said that there is no across-the-board policy. But in other NYC deals, Veritas, the wine shrine on 20th St., is offering 25% off all wines on the list. And Bar Boulud is offering a “Pannier du jour,” wherein a magnum, jerobaum, imperial or Methusalem is hauled up from the cellar, uncorked and sold by the glass for between $19 and $29 a glass. It may sound like a lot but some recent selections have included the 04 Jadot Bonnes-Mares (3L) and the 1978 Ducru Beaucaillou (mag). Maybe if you get the last glass you could take the bottle home?
At the lower-priced value end, Perry Street, Jojo, and Vong each offers a red and a white bottle of wine for $20 at lunch time as well as a $5 wine by the glass.
Hit the comments with other deals you know about!
The NYT ran a story yesterday about wine served in restaurants from refillable tanks. It’s a win-win idea since it lowers the cost per glass of wine reduces wine’s carbon footprint with less packaging mass, similar to the bag-in-box idea I detailed in the Times last summer.
Let’s just hope the restaurants that do use the system pass on the lower costs to diners. Such is the case of those detailed in the story. Last spring, I also saw an affordable tank wine (“Mas vino,” pictured above) offered by the glass at Small Shed Flatbreads in Mill Valley. I didn’t try it because I was too busy trying a prosecco.
Last year, supermodel Gisele Bundchen caused a stir by sipping wine during the Super Bowl. Some even thought this act caused the Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady, her beau, to crumble, bring the team down with him.
Fans of the Steelers and the Cardinals who make it to Tampa for this year’s Super Bowl on February 1 are, given the scant attention paid to wine at stadiums, likely to have few such vinuous distractions. But Tampa does have one wine destination worth flagging: Bern’s Steakhouse.
The restaurant has a legendary wine list with about 600,000 bottles that have been accumulated constantly since the restaurant opened in the 1950s. Some are housed in the 3,000+ square foot wine cellar in the restaurant but the bulk of the collection is stored in two temperature controlled warehouses off premises. Stars of the collection include an 1851 bottle of Gruaud Larose, some Madeiras from the 18th century, and large verticals of Bordeaux.
I’ve never been to the restaurant but I was talking with an NYC wine collector last year and he told me about weekends that he and his wife like to take in Tampa to visit Bern’s. They go with four to eight friends and make reservations for Friday and Saturday night. They have a lengthy meal on Friday, sleep in on Saturday, get manicures or play golf (they said there’s not a lot to do), then go back for a huge, long dinner on Saturday that can last ten hours at the table as they plunder the cellar. Whoa! Who knows if they are keeping this up hedonism in recessionary 2009 but it shows what damage wine lovers could do at the restaurant. A lot more than in the stadium, that’s for sure!
Related: “Eric Renaud Senior Sommelier” [WSJ.com]
Intrigued by the notion that an entire restaurant will be opening in Manhattan tonight with baby bottles for stemware, I decided to try this vessel out for myself. Since we have two lads, one of whom is baby bottle age, I had to go no farther than my own kitchen.
Filling it up with some red from last night, I took a sip of the wine before screwing on the lid. Still passable on day two. I screwed on the lid. I sucked.
Mrs. Vino: “Obscene!”
It was kind of like having a governor on your car that prevents it from going over 50 miles per hour. Or 5 miles per hour as the case may be since a mere drip escaped at a time.
I tried a fresh aromatic white. Sipped with the lid off, I got lots of nice aromas of tropical fruits etc. Once I screwed on the rubber nipple, those aromas were trapped! I felt like one of those subjects in the Cal Tech study. Yes, it’s a $100 wine! Whatever you tell me! Just give it to me in a glass!
Prediction: within a week, the restaurant will be offering normal stemware as well.
Earlier this year we talked about those juice boxes for adults aka wine in Tetra Pak. Now you can regress even further, straight past sippy cups. Yes, via Diner’s Journal we learn that the new fondue restaurant, La Cave des Fondus (20 Prince Street in Nolita) will offer red and white wine (and beer) in baby bottles. Perhaps the only thing scarier is the fact that this restaurant comes from Paris. Yes, Paris! Check out the video to see how much they love it there!
So when will Riedel get into the baby bottle market?