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Cork-Popping Wine Prices

May 08, 1988|DAN BERGER

Wine lists across America typically are overpriced. Still, when you see Dom Perignon selling for $137 a bottle and Perrier Jouet Grand Brut at $47, you know you're facing a challenge.

The wholesale price of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut is $16.58 per bottle; by charging $47 a bottle for it, the Hotel Bel-Air priced the wine 2.83 times the wholesale price.

And don't get the idea you'll save money by bringing in your wine and paying the corkage charge. The restaurant advised us that corkage was $25 per bottle, the highest corkage charge I have ever encountered.

I realize that you don't go to the Bel-Air to save money, but this list's prices are especially frustrating when you know how wine is priced. The wholesale price of a wine is two-thirds of its suggested retail price. Therefore a restaurant owner theoretically could make money by selling a wine that retails at $12 ($8 wholesale, without discounts) for $8.01. At $12, he's making a 50% markup.

Of course, reasonable pricing rarely happens in restaurants, and certainly not at the Hotel Bel-Air. While the list offers 300 choices, the selection isn't very interesting and there's almost nothing in the lower range.

For example, I love 1985 Vichon Chardonnay. But at $32, the wine is priced at 3.2 times its $10 cost ($15 suggested retail). We didn't order it and instead went for a red wine, a 1983 Inglenook Merlot Reserve, which the restaurant had for $28. Markup on this wine is 4.4 times its wholesale price of $6.33 per bottle, but I like this wine very much and find it to be worth far more than its suggested retail price.

Even the wineglasses at the Hotel Bel-Air aren't very good. Although they look nice to the eye, they flange out at the edge, which makes them inappropriate for swirling wine--unless you happen to love to splash wine on your shirt.

On the other hand, the service was good. Our red wine was elegantly presented in a silver basket, and our waiter was a professional who handled nearly everything perfectly.

Normally, I give my recommendations about the best value on a wine list, but that's not easy here. One wine worth the tariff is the 1983 Trimbach Gewurztraminer ($28), even though suggested retail is only $11.25.

I understand that the Hotel Bel-Air caters to people with the wherewithal to afford the finer things in life--but simply charging more for a wine doesn't make it any finer.

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