The Friday Fermentable: Foiled and Frustrated

My wine co-blogger and dear scientific colleague, Erleichda, and I had hoped to bring you an account of the wines enjoyed at our recent meetup. Erleichda and I have recently had the good fortune of regaining support for our scientific interactions and had a face-to-face conference of the principals for planning and reviewing our collaborative studies. As you would (and should) expect, getting the two of us together would also include the enjoyment of various wines and culinary delights.
However, circumstances beyond our control led to our group being treated to an evening at an establishment whose wine selection could be viewed generously as undistinguished. I believe that Erleichda’s direct quote was, “Wines for the beer-drinking frat crowd.” (To be fair, the beer selection was equally bland.). You know it was bad when I tell you that Erleichda drank iced tea the rest of the evening after the first glass of wine because he “didn’t want to waste the energy of his alcohol metabolizing enzymes.”
But please don’t misunderstand us: we are not being wine snobs.

Instead, we mean to suggest that an establishment that needs to have a limited selection of inexpensive wines can do so quite effectively without compromising on quality. In fact, today’s weekly “Tastings” column by Wall Street Journal wine writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, their latest sampling of Italy’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines opened with this statement:

We just completed a tasting in which every one of our favorites rated Good/Very Good or better and cost $11 or less. Ka-ching!

In fact, their second-ranked wine of the tasting, Castellana (Cantina Miglianico) 2006, can be had for $5.99 retail price (750 mL bottle). That was the same price charged of Erleichda and me at our ill-fated meet-up for a glass of substandard wine. Dottie and John ‘s top choice of the tasting, Valle Reale “Vigne Nuove” 2005, goes for the equally reasonable price of $9.95.
So, even if you’re in the restaurant business and forced to buy from a high-volume distributor, you can still provide reasonable, low-priced wines to your customers. A previous issue of The Friday Fermentable covered our unscientific survey of ScienceBlogs bloggers for their favorite inexpensive wines. More recently, my own <$12 surprises at the supermarket have been the 2005 merlot and 2006 chardonnay from Bogle Vineyards, a perennial “best-buy” brand, and the viognier and old-vine zinfandel from Cline.
I would’ve gladly drank these over the wines offered to us that would make the term “proletariat swill” an affront to the proletariat.

2 thoughts on “The Friday Fermentable: Foiled and Frustrated

  1. ahh, but are you not confusing a couple of issues. First the by-the-glass / (bottle-price / #-glasses-bottle) ratio is never 1. Second, the restaurant industry markup of 300% plus for wine. it is the rare establishment that concludes that decreasing wine bottle markup to, say, that for broccoli is going to increase wine sales to the point of making up for the lost profit. IME, of course. not that I pay attention much but once upon a time when wine snobbery enjoyed a modest popularity, I found restaurants having to pare back on the margin because so many consumers were intimately familiar with the market price for specific wines. Is it my imagination or has there been a return upward in the markups?

  2. DM, I get your point in that it appears I was objecting to the by-the-glass price of one wine vs. retail price of another. I was mixing apples and oranges. I expect to pay $6-8/glass in a restaurant for a wine that retails for, say, $15. Figuring about five, 5-oz glasses per 750 mL/25.4 oz bottle, that would be a markup of 100-267% if I did that right in my head. By the glass prices usually carry a premium over full bottle prices but my unscientific observations are generally that the per bottle markup is about 150% (i.e., the restaurant price is 2.5X the retail price.).
    The Pour S.F. blog did an analysis of the mark-up phenomenon in September. As you allude to, you have to take the data as an underestimate since San Francisco is a market where I perceive that the higher-than-average knowledge of the average wine drinker would result in lower mark-up tolerance than in other markets. They got a pretty good straight line fit to an equation whereby the restaurant price is about 192% retail price plus $6 (or a mark-up of 92% + $6).
    Further analysis revealed the situation to be somewhat more complex and dependent on the original retail price range. Wines less than $15 were marked up by 144% whereas wines $25-100 were marked up 100-110% – they even plotted the +/- 1 S.D. for each price interval.
    I’d be interested to know what others think about their particular markets but I’d estimate having to pay closer to a 150% mark-up in Pharmboy-ville restaurants.

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