Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I Often Order Wine By the Glass

Profit-obsessed people have an interesting view of wine. I once worked at a lifestyle website where the content director, Donald, told me he'd bought a bottle of Grgich Hills Chardonnay for $20, and what did I think? My answer was vague and unsatisfying: If you like Chardonnay, if it goes with your dinner, etc. His response, "I heard it was a very good price."

I like Donald: he's smarter and more successful than me. He just cared less about wine than I do, and these two sentences may not be unconnected.

So I always try to understand the philosophy behind bullshit articles like "Why You Should Never Order Wine By the Glass," written by somebody from Zagat for Business Insider.

Here's the core message of this article: Wine is a commodity. Buying a commodity in bulk is better value. Restaurateurs will sucker you out of value if you let them.

And, in a somewhat bizarre diversion, a bottle of wine is a sanitary product like a toothbrush. You wouldn't use somebody else's toothbrush, would you? So why would you want to drink, as the article puts it, "somebody else's leftovers?" Ewwwwwwww!

Let's go back to me and Donald, who is now in real estate, ironically in wine country. Donald would be won over by the first point, which is almost always true: By-the-glass wines are marked up higher than bottled wines,

It takes a silly aesthete like me to say, "But it's more interesting to have three different wines at dinner than one single wine."

I can also argue that when I have three by-the-glass pours, and my wife has a fourth, we usually pay the same or less in real dollars than when I order a bottle. I rarely spend more than $15 for a glass of wine, it's a psychological barrier, but I often spend $60 or more for a bottle.

Look out! There goes your value
Let's say I spend $50 for four glasses of wine, a common price in San Francisco. I'm probably getting about 80% of a bottle total from four bottles that average about $25 retail. Hence I'm getting about $20 retail worth of wine. Whereas if I spend $60 for a bottle that retails for $40, I'm getting twice as much value for only $10 more! This is a very common actual decision for me, and clearly I'm not extracting the value I could from wine lists, especially as I'm savvy enough to know most of the retail prices.

So I have to concede the Zagat first point. Who cares if I want a glass of white with my appetizer and a glass of red with my main dish? If all you're looking for is value -- and you define "value" as "retail price" -- you won't find it in by-the-glass. Donald, who probably never reads wine blogs anyway, would stop reading here. We're done.

Zagat writer Kelly Dobkin should also have stopped there. Everything after that is complete bullshit.

She says, "Wine people don't order wine by the glass," and quotes one restaurant wine buyer.

It depends on who the "wine people" are, and who they're eating with. If I go out with three other wine writers, we order bottles, because four of us can easily polish off three or four bottles in an evening. But what if I go out with a light drinker, like my wife? Or with any dining partner, and we're having the tasting menu, and one bottle won't go with everything? I like half bottles in that situation, but I often have one glass with a specific dish.

Dobkin's third point is weird and paranoid.
She writes, "What you also may not realize is sometimes by-the-glass options are someone else's leftovers. (Restaurant beverage director Joe) Campanale tells us, 'That could certainly happen, and might at some restaurants. At my restaurants, it definitely feels weird to sell a party's unfinished bottle, but if someone gets a new bottle and doesn't like it right away, we'll definitely pull it off the table and then sell off the rest of the bottle by the glass.' "
The horror! That table over by the window ordered a bottle of Burgundy and thought it tasted like salted licorice when they wanted something juicy and fruity, so they rejected it and ordered a nice Argentine Malbec. According to Dobkin, their cooties leapt from their wineglasses through the air onto the neck of the open Burgundy bottle, where they are just waiting to infest you. Ewww!

Waiter, take this away and get me some fresh wine! And disinfect the whole area while you're at it!

The article finishes on a strong note, pointing out, "Most restaurants will let you take home the unfinished vino, so you're not losing any value there." Thank God! Hopefully you don't live in a state with open-container laws, as police are often less than respectful about your risk of losing wine value.

So here's the answer to my headline, "Why I Often Order Wine By the Glass:" Because at dinnertime, I'm a poor investor. I pay more for things I want to taste. I don't even know the EBITD of the fish of the day.

The value of many things, like rental cars and Internet service, can be measured purely in dollars. But for some things we need units of measurement that might not currently exist. Is there a repeatable, quantifiable unit of measurement for pleasure, for stimulation, for satisfying curiosity?

Donald is looking at his watch: this post has gone on long enough. I need to get back to generating income.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.
Also read some of my latest for-profit, value-added stories on Wine-Searcher.

1 comment:

rapopoda said...

I think daily fishes prefer to have valuations based on OBIT and OBITDA... ;-)