Not long ago I was with my wife at a restaurant that had a $190 glass of wine on its list. My wife, who is also known as the voice of reason, observed that this was—if I can get her words right—"just ridiculous." I pointed out that the wine in question, a 2004 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape, was one of the great wines of the world. She replied that she didn't care if it was made by magical elves—paying $190 for a glass of wine was still ridiculous.
Yet in the past few years, more and more restaurants have started offering surprisingly expensive wines by the glass. I'm not going to say my wife was wrong—in fact, one of the fundamental rules of journalism is, Don't say in print that your wife is wrong—because I feel that the vast majority of people would agree with her: $190 seems like a crazy amount to pay for a glass of wine. But at the same time, more and more people are buying, spending anywhere from $25 to $400 a pop.
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Michael Ploetz created the by-the-glass program at The Peninsula Beverly Hills' restaurant The Belvedere. He recalls, "Immediately, we began selling a lot of high-end Chardonnay, like $40 to $50 a glass—Paul Hobbs, Peter Michael, that sort of thing. And not really to wine-geeky people; more our regular customers." Ploetz's regular customers do live in Beverly Hills, which isn't the lowest-rent district around, but he doesn't feel that the casual profligacy of the .01 percent caused the shift. "I really think that what people are after is the experience. It's like, 'I know Chave is a great Hermitage producer, and I've never had the wine—for $83, let's give it a go." I have to admit, I felt the same tug with that $190 glass of Château Rayas, a wine I rarely, if ever, get to drink.