The do’s and don’ts – Corkage at a restaurant
Can you bring a bottle of inexpensive wine to a restaurant?
It is okay to bring an inexpensive bottle of wine to a restaurant under certain conditions. First, ask yourself why you’d want to bring in a bottle of cheap vino to a restaurant. It is a bad idea if the thought is to save money. Most restaurants take pride in preparing their wine lists. They want to match their food menu with a selection of wines with a broad price range. The reason you bring a bottle of wine to a restaurant is because it has a significant meaning to you. Examples: A wine your purchased on a wine country trip where you met the winemaker. A wine that was produced in a vintage year that you are celebrating.
Here are some corkage guidelines for bringing an inexpensive bottle of wine to a restaurant.
- Your wine is not a bulk-produced wine. Examples: Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma or Meomi Pinot Noir are bulk wines (over a million cases made).
- Your wine is not a second label wine as in Trader Joe’s, Kirkland or Cameron Hughes.
- Your wine is from a boutique winery.
- Your wine has been aging in your wine cellar for one or more years*
- The restaurant has a meager wine list **
- The fancier the restaurant (Michelin star), the better idea it is to choose from the wine list.
Always call ahead to find out what the corkage policy is at a restaurant. Often in a restaurant’s corkage policy, they will charge you the restaurant wine list price for your wine if it happens to be on their wine list. If the corkage fee is high, $20 or more, your inexpensive bottle of wine becomes high priced.
Of course, you can try bringing any wine to a restaurant. Manners are manners! I once witnessed a party bring in Two Buck Chuck to a Calistoga restaurant.
One of the downsides of bringing a wine to a restaurant is it doesn’t make sense if you are into pairing food and wine. It limits your choices. If the special of the night is a seafood pasta and you have a big Cabernet, forget about having the special of the night. Get the ribeye.
* Each year I try to purchase a case of Napa Valley Cabernet from some of the big names. Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug, Conn Creek and others. As long as I know the wine is just about 100% Napa Valley, I believe it is age worthy. I recently brought a 2005 Robert Mondavi ($15) to a nice restaurant. The wine was beautifully aged and outstanding in quality.
**We love going to a small neighborhood Chinese restaurant. The owner has one red and one white wine on his wine list. We always bring in a bottle of good cheap vino and he never charges us a corkage fee.