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Restaurants : The Wine List

May 19, 1991|Dan Berger

Most U. S. restaurants use a multiple of a wine's cost to determine price. Twice wholesale is considered a fair markup; three times wholesale--or twice retail--is considered high. Some restaurants gouge with even higher margins.

A problem occurs when the restaurant uses the same markup for the cheaper and the more expensive wines. This is the problem with the wine list at The Cafe at the new Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey.

With moderately priced wines, the dollar markup is small. For example, 1986 Clos du Val Semillon (a $10 wine at retail) at The Cafe is only $13 a bottle more--an excellent wine and fair at the price.

But with 1985 Chateau Pichon-Lalande, the current retail price of $62.50 is bumped $42.50, to $105. At the upper end of the scale, 1953 Chateau Latour, still available on retail-store shelves at about $550, rises by $148, to $698. Here the markup is lower, just twice wholesale, but the dollar increase is huge.

Meanwhile, glassware and the service are the same, and the diner runs the risk of getting an off-bottle of wine. (Not all older wines age as gracefully as others.)

The Cafe's list is impressive for its length--200 wines--four dozen of which are available by the glass. The prices, though, are high for many wines. It's hard, for example, to pay $25 for 1989 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner's Reserve when the same wine is available in most stores at well under $10.

The best values are those bottles only wine lovers are likely to ferret out. Among white wines, I'd choose 1988 Hugel Gewurztraminer ($24) or 1988 Villa Mt. Eden Chardonnay ($23)--broader wines to go with substantial foods--and the 1988 Muscadet from Domaine de la Bartadiere ($17) for lighter dishes. Among the red wines, I'd select 1986 Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon at $22.

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