Berger on wine: Wines made for restaurants solve dilemma
On a fictitious wine list from a nonexistent restaurant you find 2014 Chateau Niedspondiavanci Chardonnay for $45.
You, a savvy, mobile phone-equipped diner, do an Internet search to find out about it: is it worth $45? Where is it from? But the only search-engine results for the brand has nothing about wine, only a reference to a terrible 1942 joke.
This tale illustrates one of the restaurant industry’s most difficult-to-solve problems: how to offer diners wines that don’t compete directly with discount wine shops, a list that could look (and may be) overpriced.
For instance, the reliable and tasty Clos du Bois merlot is on many wine lists. With a standard markup, restaurants often list it about $30 a bottle.
But many restaurant wine managers don’t like discount wine shops routinely carrying this popular wine for less than $15. At least a dozen shops list it on their websites at less than $10.
“That makes it hard for us to have wines like that,” said one Santa Rosa restaurant wine manager. “I want to offer good wines that go with our food, but I don’t have the buying power” of large discount wine shops.
She said her wine storage space is limited, and she can only buy a few cases of any wine at a time, thus she must pay full wholesale price, forcing her to charge much more than discount wine shops. who “ buy in volume and get better pricing” than she does.
She can offer “private label” wines, but unknown brands pose problems. Consumers know nothing on which to base a buying decision. “Chateau Niedspondiavanci” may be bulk wine from Paraguay.
For that reason, many wineries now are quietly trying to solve restaurant pricing headaches by producing lines of “restaurant- only” wines that will never be seen at retail shops or offered to consumers in their tasting rooms.
One sophisticated such program was launched two years ago without fanfare by Kendall-Jackson, whose popular, widely available Vintners’ Reserve Chardonnay, with a California designation, sells for a suggested retail price $17. I have seen it on restaurant wine lists for $30 to $35.
The 2016 Jackson Estate Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley is offered to restaurants with a suggested wine-list price of $39. It is richly flavored with aromatics of tropical fruit and barrel aging. When served slightly chilled, it works nicely with food.
Without knowing the prices of the four wines in the line, I guessed at the prices, and all are less than I imagined they’d be. My guess for the chardonnay if available at retail: $35. And it is clearly identified as being made by a reliable producer — not the fictional Niedspondiavanci.
Similarly, a 2016 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, is a real bargain today. My first thought was that the retail price should be about $50. At that, most restaurants would charge $70 or more. The winery is offering it to restaurants to sell for $42. A bargain. The grapes for this wine were grown in the Petaluma Gap, a newly approved and already near-legendary appellation. It is superb.
At $45, another pinot, this one from Anderson Valley, also is excellent, but its alcohol (15 percent) is daunting. It is, however, impressive for the price.