- Published on Tuesday, 04 May 1999 20:05
- Written by Steve Hicks
Increasingly, people in the area store wine at home. These home collections are stored anywhere from wine racks in closets to elaborate temperature-controlled cellars.
This equates to a lot of wine available to be brought by you to your favorite restaurant. There is usually a charge when you bring your own bottle, and it is called a corkage fee. It is important to remember that corkage is not a God-given privilege, it is a courtesy being granted by the restaurant.
Most white tablecloth restaurants make a high percentage of their profits on the wine mark-up. There are exceptions, and I recently talked with an owner of the "Kitchen" in Sacramento. They price the food to stand alone and sell all wine at retail and encourage corkage by eliminating the fee. It must work, as they are booked three months in advance and serve only 4 times a week. Dinner, however, is $75 per person.
Corkage fees usually run from $5 to $20 per bottle and some restaurants may not charge. Do not ever bring a bottle that is on the wine list so that you can save money. This is considered an insult. The bottle you bring usually should be a special bottle for a special occasion. I feel it is acceptable, occasionally, to just bring an expensive bottle without a special reason, but if it is a habit, you need to buy a good bottle for the same meal. It is polite to offer the sommelier or owner a taste of your special wine. This will be very much appreciated and helps smooth your way for the next time.
You should also consider the fact that the waiter is getting less of a tip because there was a lost wine sale, and increase your tip accordingly. This is especially true if you brought an old bottle that needed decanting. Remember the corkage fee always goes to the restaurant, not the waiter.
Always call in advance if you are going to a new place. Ask if it is okay to bring a bottle and inquire about the corkage policy. Several years ago we were at Squaw Creek, and I called and asked if I could bring a bottle from the year we were married - needless to say, an old bottle. When the bill arrived for the evening there was a charge of $450 for the bottle I brought! After I was resuscitated, the owner told me the waiter had made a mistake as there was a similar bottle on the list, and it cost that amount. I was glad I had called.
Local restaurants like Del Baffo and 231 Ellsworth have tremendous wine cellars that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. You should be able to find a suitable bottle on these extensive lists. They have made these large investments so you have many choices. I have also found that most places with extensive lists are usually the most amenable to corkage because they truly appreciate fine wine. Call ahead, follow the common courtesies and corkage should not be a problem.