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A Great Example of a Wine Restaurant

Posted: Jul 28, 2008 12:20pm ET

Hey, what's wrong with a restaurant making money on food? Does the wine list nearly always have to be the profit center for a restaurant?

Maybe these two questions are not fair, considering the cost of starting and running a restaurant these days, especially in major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles or New York. But I still feel like asking these questions just about once or twice a month. We just pay too much in restaurants for a good bottle of wine. We all know that some restaurants mark up three, four or even five times.

Anyway, I went to a restaurant a few weeks ago with my dad, stepmother, brother, and son in San Diego County, and it was one of the few United States eateries that I have been to in a long time that was apparently making money on its food, and the owners were just happy with that. At least that's what the manager of The 3rd Corner in Encinitas, Calif., told me when I asked him about his reasonable prices for wine. Thank you!

My buddy James Laube wrote about 3rd corner's other location, in the Ocean Beach neighborhood, but he didn't mention that all the wines are sold at retail, plus a $5 corkage fee. Check out my video of the place. Jack, my 14-year-old, did the camera work.

I picked out a 2005 Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Trocken Wachau Wösendorfer Hochrain. According to our database, I actually paid less than the release price. It was $42, including the corkage. It showed lots of tropical fruit and peach character. It was full and rich yet dry and minerally on the finish. I love a good Grüner Veltliner. I gave it 90 points, non-blind. My dad (a California Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc man) totally dug it. "What a delicious wine!" he said.

I also picked out a 2005 Alex Gambal Vosne-Romanée Vieilles Vignes, which I always wanted to try, and at $55, I thought, what the hell! Sure, it was just a baby, but what a pretty one at that. It showed bright strawberry and floral aromas with a sweet red fruit undertone. It was full-bodied, with silky tannins and a fruity finish. It was a little simple, but it was tight and slightly closed. It will be much better in five or six years, but I still gave it 92 points, non-blind.

The food is also very good at 3rd Corner. It's what I would describe as French bistro food with good California ingredients. My scallops were perfectly seared and the veggies were crisp and tasty. I can't remember what everybody else ate.

My brother David was "stoked" (he lives at the beach). "The wine prices make it here," he said, as he finished the red Burgundy in his glass. "We drank a $50 bottle in a restaurant that should have cost us $150 or more."

That's the truth, brother. Do you know of similar restaurants, anywhere in the world, with such a great wine list policy? Please, share the knowledge.

Brad Kanipe
Atlanta —  July 28, 2008 4:07pm ET
Redfish on Hilton Head Island always comes to mind during these discussions. They have a very nice retail wine shop in the front of the restaurant and corkage for these bottles is $10. I absolutely love the concept and the food it top notch.
Brian Buzzini
NorCal —  July 28, 2008 4:10pm ET
PASSIONFISH in Pacific Grove Ca. has an AMAZING wine list, lots of hard to get Calif. Cults, at just a few bucks over list member price. Sine Qua Non, Marcassin, Harlan, Alban, Pax, Aubert.....just to be able to have access to some of these wines is great, let alone at prices a little over what list members pay. Foods great too!
William Keene
North Carolina —  July 28, 2008 4:43pm ET
Hey James. My brother-in-law lives in Encinitas and I was there last summer. We went to a place called Tastes. If I am not mistaken, they employed a similar concept there. They also had different flights by the glass that would compliment various items on the menu. My wife and I stopped in for appetizers and did a flight of wine. We also bought a bottle and took it to my brother-in-law's house for dinner. I remmeber the prices being fair. The food was very good. Check it out if you are still in Encinitas. Of course, all this could have changed since last summer.

There is also a good Italian joint there called Trattoria I Trulli. Both are located on the S Coast Hwy.
Jim Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 28, 2008 5:05pm ET
James - The best place that I've ever been in terms of wine pricing policy is a restaurant called Passionfish in Pacific Grove, CA (just adjacent to Monterey) - Mark Pisoni of Pisoni (and Lucia) Vineyards turned me onto it. Their policy is to sell wine at only a few dollars over what they actually paid for it. A couple of examples from their wonderfully diverse wine list are as follows: 2001 Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino ($90), 2004 Alban Reva ($75), 2005 Brewer-Clifton Ashley's Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50), and the 2005 St Michael Eppan Pinot Grigio ($25). That's on top of fabulous food and one of the nicest, most attentive staffs I've ever encountered. It's the only place I eat when I'm in that area (which isn't often enough!).
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  July 28, 2008 8:56pm ET
Very good topic, James. Restaurants like these need to be highlighted because they are what I would call wine-friendly. Getting bilked on the wines is such a turn off. It's like they assume we don't know we are getting milked - or they just don't care. It's one thing investing in a great collection, with the attendant costs; that can justify some generous mark-ups, but few reataurants adopt that approach. Most see wine as a profit centre, regardless of the cost. Frankly it's insulting. I hope this issue stays in the forefront so that the message goes over loud and clear. Mark up should be a function of effort or investment, not opportunism.
Eugene Kim
Houston, TX —  July 28, 2008 10:00pm ET
In Houston, Iron Chef contender Ibiza and sister restaurant Catalan have terrific high-end, diverse wine lists at less than 50% markup. Seafood newcomer Reef also has a similarly excellent, well-balanced wine list for minimal markup - all enclosed in a glass cellar, like a mini version of Las Vegas's Aureole.
David Brown
Calgary/Canada —  July 28, 2008 10:18pm ET
Here, Here. What a great comment. I have lived all my life in BC and Alberta Canada, wine prices in most of the good restaurants are at least 2 - 3 times over retail. It is extremely frustrating and prevents me on most occassions from purchasing top quality wine when I am dining out. Unfortunatly I cannot name any restaurants north of the border I have tried that I would deem wine pricing friendly. However the next time I am in the US I will definitly make an attempt to try some of the restaurants listed above.
Colin Haggerty
La Jolla, California —  July 28, 2008 10:30pm ET
James-We live in La Jolla...We will visit 3rd Corner very soon (probably after golf at Encinitas Ranch). I love to hear about restaurants who finally "get it".
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  July 28, 2008 10:57pm ET
I was in Shreveport, LA for some Air Force training back in 2000, and my wife and I went to Fertitta's Restaurant there. It was a strange coincidence because the chefs at the time were a married couple -- and the father of the wife knew my wife and told her about it. The uncle had a wine collection which was used for the restaurant at the time. They still show up on the annual WS restaurant awards, and the price rating is still cheap. Who knows what they have now, but I remember an '89 d'Armailhac for about $60 or so. The list had other such eclectic deals like that. The food was great too, and the family that ran it was quite friendly. I also drank an Opus One there on my birthday, and even that mark-up was quite small. Not to rag on Shreveport, but that restaurant was the about the only thing I could really appreciate there. Meanwhile, my buddy and I were planning a boys night out for this week, and our choices quickly dwindled to places with corkage (or places we know the owner and it's not an issue). I have family in the wine business, and I can't help but feel like I'm getting ripped off paying the mark-ups. Corkage rules.
Dave Devine
Leverkusen, Germany —  July 29, 2008 12:47am ET
The restaurant Vintage in Cologne is also a combination wine shop/restaurant. All wine in the restaurant is priced retail + 12 euros corkage.
Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  July 29, 2008 12:52am ET
I have not found that in Hawaii, or during any of my travels. I'll be in Southern California later this year. I'm "stoked"
Brent Wingett
Paso Robles, California —  July 29, 2008 1:11am ET
We like The Galley in Morro Bay, California. Great food, particularly the fresh fish and a great, moderately priced wine list. The list is not huge but includes everything from California to the Loire, some Rhones, and several Burgundies, all at reasonable prices.
David Blakeley
New Jersey —  July 29, 2008 10:00am ET
Jimmy D's in Cincinnati used to be $5 over retail for all wine and now is still a reasonable $10 over retail. I actually went there the first time after "finding" it in the Wine Spectator on-line Restaurant Search function. The food is very good and they really make you feel comfortable.
David A Zajac
July 29, 2008 10:00am ET
Brad, I agree with Redfish in Hilton Head, eat there when on vacation and its an excellent restaurant with a nice wine policy of retail plus corkage. Unfortunately last year while there the A/C was broke and it was probably 80 degrees in the restaurant, the bottle of pinot I ordered just didn't cut it. Oh well.As an aside, the current edition of new California cabernet releases probably averages about $300/bottle. Are the idiots completely out of their minds? If I never drink another Napa cab again, it will be too soon based upon these morons pricing policies. Time to wake up Napa.
Edmonton —  July 29, 2008 10:36am ET
Characters restaurant in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada has probably the most reasonable wine prices I've seen in Canada. Most of the wines are no more than 25% above retail, and the selection of Italian reds and California Cabs are nice.
Federico Rossi
rome italy —  July 29, 2008 12:02pm ET
Great post... There is a nice little restaurant in Italy, one Michelin Star though, called Amerigo, at Savigno, near Bologna. Serves best truffles, traditional dishes, sometimes revisited, has a little locanda with five wonderful rooms, and allows you take ANY wine you please with you, at no extra cost. Have been there with my girlfriend, we drank Amarone Bertani 1973, purchased from the producer one month before and gorgeous, still fresh, fascinating. A clear reccomendation for all...
Tom Hudson
Wilmington, Delaware —  July 29, 2008 12:17pm ET
I own a 76 seat wine bar/restaurant in Wilmington, DE. We price our bottles (400 different selections) at the "retail price" + $20. For "retail", we assume that is the wholesale cost +40%.We selected this pricing model as $20 above retail is essential to a corkage fee. My homestate of DE does not allow corkage. IMHO, $20 over retail is a price that I am willing to pay at a restaurant for a bottle of wine, if it is served in proper sized stemware and at appropriate tempurature (which we do).Using this (fair?) pricng model, we still continue to have our wines be only 40% of their cost, as most of the wine we sell is less than $50/bottle.But we reward those who know and appreciate higher end wine. How would you like to go to a finer restaurant and buy a $100 retail wine, served at proper temperature, in appropriately sized stemware, for $120?
Atul Kapoor
los angeles/california —  July 29, 2008 12:58pm ET
James, this may sound like an advertisement, but at our restaurant we decided we are content making $17-$20 per bottle+ credit card fees, any mark downs or discounts from suppliers or wineries is passed on to the customer. So the higher in price you go the better "value". The list is very west coast centric.We have been at it for over 10 years.Other regions and older vintages are offered if inquired about.we are in Marina Del Rey, Ca.
Rob Lentini
Alexandria, Virginia —  July 29, 2008 3:37pm ET
Going to Monroe's in Alexandria, Virginia tonight for dinner. I think they use the same mark-up for wines at all price levels (~$15 last I looked). So if you want to splurge, you're getting your money's worth. They have a very nicely selected, though fairly small, collection of Italian wines (with a few non-Italians). Great food, too.
Filippo Recchi
Florence, Italy —  July 29, 2008 4:11pm ET
James, ever been in Pratovecchio at the "Tana degli Orsi"? Simone cooks outstanding food with local ingredients: elegant but no-fuss at the same time! And Caterina will take care of wine/spirits. Wine prices are ALL well below Florence retail and their wine list is a pleasure to read. It's 1.5 hours of curves from Florence, so you'd better get a room at a nearby hotel....it's worth every km!!!!
Christopher Myers
Copley, Ohio —  July 29, 2008 9:33pm ET
I've got one that tops most. Papa Joe's restaurant in Akron, Ohio has a short standard wine list, but it also has a very nice attached wine shop. Your server will walk you to the wine shop (I was taken through the kitchen) and you can browse the racks. Take any bottle back to your table and pay the wine shop price with no corkage. Also, it's a WS award winner:http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Dining/Restaurant_Awards/Restaurant_Profile/0,1246,2802,00.html
Andy Cohen
Weston, FL —  July 30, 2008 6:34am ET
I'd echo the recommendation on Reef in Houston. Great food and fabulous wine list. I went in one night and had Bill Floyd's (owner) recommendations and was amazed at the prices. Was so impressed, went back the next night with a party of 12. Recall having a Viader, a Amon Ra Shiraz and all at about what I had seen for retail prices.
Gary Stoyan
Sherman Oaks, CA —  July 30, 2008 6:56am ET
Pinot Bistro, in Studio City, Calif. and Zucca in downtown Los Angeles have no charge wine corkage policies. Both are part of the Patina Group and have excellent food quality and service. I believe other Patina Group restaurants also have free corkage.
Dave Devine
Leverkusen, Germany —  July 30, 2008 2:33pm ET
There is a chain of wine shops with attached wine bar/bistro called Wein & Co. in (at least) Vienna, Austria, that does something similar but with a twist. You get a discount in the wine store equal to 10 percent of your bar/restaurant tab.
Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  July 30, 2008 2:42pm ET
Beaunes Wine Bar in Tampa(also known as West Palm Wines) has had this concept for a couple years now...pay retail from their large and rare selection in the shop and drink it for no extra charge in the wine bar/restaurant Thur-Sat...LOVE IT!!!
Brian J Clouse
Brian, Philly —  July 30, 2008 3:22pm ET
Tom Hudson from Wilmington, DE - What's the name of the restaurant? My wife and I will be down this weekend!
Richard A Eckert
Encinitas, CA —  July 30, 2008 8:28pm ET
I've been going to The 3rd Corner in Ocean Beach since it opened, and when it opened in Encinitas - where I live - I introduced it to all my friends in North County - Including Jim's parents. I've been in wine retail and taught wine appreciation and cooking with wine, and I manage to drop by at least once a week. They have great deals, often undercutting wine club prices. No, I'm not a shill, just a lover of a great find.
Dave Devine
Leverkusen, Germany —  July 31, 2008 6:52am ET
Brian J. Clouse,Do a google search for hudson wine delaware. His restaurant will be the first hit. Hope this doesn't get rejected as spamming/advertising. I applaud Tom's restraint!
Dick J Wilkins
Newark, Delaware —  August 5, 2008 10:49pm ET
I'm surprised Tom Hudson didn't mention the most spectacular aspect of the wine experience at Domaine Hudson. They serve the ~60 wines-by-the-glass in 1.5-, 3-, or 5-oz. pours, enabling one to have a tasting flight with each dinner course!
In addition, we Delawareans also enjoy the high-value wine list at The Back Porch Cafe in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They serve about 50 wines by the glass, & most of their bottles range from $20-40! Their affordable-wine philosophy appears at the bottom of their online wine list.

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