How Not to Get Ripped Off on a Restaurant Wine List

2011 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon © Courtesy of KLWines.com
By Ray Isle Posted November 04, 2014

File this under “mistakes you do not want to make, ever.”

File this under “mistakes you do not want to make, ever.” According to a story broken by nj.com, recently a customer at Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata in Atlantic City ordered what he thought was a $37.50 bottle of wine, only to find when the bill came that the bottle was $3750. A bit of a shock, to say the least.

Joe Lentini, the diner in question, apparently asked the waitress to pick something for his group. She pointed to a bottle on the list, and when he asked how much it was, said, “Thirty-seven fifty.” Lentini, who says that he had forgotten his glasses and couldn’t read the list, ok’d the choice. Turns out the wine was the 2011 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, a sought-after super-rarity that his group downed without much concern, at least until the check arrived. Then, of course, they freaked.

There’s a lot of he-said-she-said to this story—the restaurant claims the server and the sommelier verified the request before opening the bottle, Lentini claims he and his group were rooked—but either way, Lentini's pals ended up paying way more than they wanted to for a bottle of wine. (And, to add insult to injury, 2011 is probably the weakest vintage in Napa in years.) Here are five strategies on how to make sure you don't pay more than you want to for wine in a restaurant.

Rule 1: Always make sure that the wine you ordered is, in fact, the wine you ordered. You don’t have to be paranoid—restaurants actually aren’t trying to fake you out—but servers do make mistakes from time to time.

Rule 2: Don’t order water. Seriously. The markup is absurd, plus, those three bottles of sparkling water? That’s $25 you could have spent on wine!

Rule 3: If you and your guests are going to drink four glasses of wine or more (even three or more in some cases) order a bottle. Bottle prices are almost always a better deal than by-the-glass prices.

Rule 4: Apply the Clicquot Test. Here’s the deal: Veuve Clicquot is one of the most common wines on restaurant wine lists, and it's often a good indicator of how the list is priced as a whole. For instance, in stores Yellow Label runs about $45 a bottle, give or take. On the Bobby Flay Steak wine list mentioned above, it’s $135 a bottle. That's three times retail: admittedly painful, but not unusual. Go to Savini Restaurant in Allendale, NJ, though, and Yellow Label is $88, less than twice retail: a bargain, and other wines on the list probably are, too. But if the place you wandered into is charging four times retail? Spend your dollars elsewhere.

Rule 5: And, if you can’t read tiny print, then don’t forget your glasses!

Related: Best Napa Valley Wineries to Visit
California's Best Tasting Experiences
Sonoma County Wineries to Visit

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