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Know the ins and outs of corkage etiquette

Two Women on Wine

Posted: January 16, 2009 3:54 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2009 4:45 a.m.
There's a cozy café in our neighborhood that has become our favorite dinner spot. It serves good California-French food, the wait staff is friendly and professional, and it isn't expensive. As if we needed another reason to like this place, it's got a very friendly corkage policy.

Corkage is the fee a restaurant charges to open and serve wine that customers bring with them. Some restaurants try to discourage customers from bringing their own wine and charge fairly high corkage fees -$20 per bottle and up. The corkage at our little café, which has a small, well-priced wine list, is $12 per bottle.

We don't normally show up at restaurants with bottles of wine tucked under our arms. After all, part of a restaurant's appeal can be its high-quality, reasonably-priced wine list. Sometimes, however, we do prefer to drink one of our wines.

On one occasion, we wanted to bring a bottle of 2005 Sea Smoke Ten Pinot Noir we had been saving. We thought it would pair nicely with the stuffed pork chop, which is one of their specialties. So we arrived with our own bottle. We also bought a bottle of 2007 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, a wine with intense berry flavors and fuller bodied. Both wines paired beautifully with the food and we couldn't have been happier.

There are few rules of corkage etiquette you might want to consider before bringing your own wine to a nice restaurant.

First, call ahead to find out the restaurant's corkage policy and fee. Allowing guests to bring in their own wine is a courtesy on the restaurant's part. Some restaurants don't permit it. Most, however, do permit it as long the customer's wine isn't on the restaurant's wine list. Ask how much the corkage fee is. If they have a fee, most restaurants charge per bottle; some charge per person. Occasionally, restaurants will even have a "no corkage" night.

Be a good sport and return the courtesy, if possible, by buying at least one bottle from the restaurant's wine list. This is a good idea at a restaurant you like and where you plan to return. And when the check comes, you may even discover that corkage fee has been waived.

Don't bring a cheap wine. In the first place, why would you want to pay a corkage fee for an inexpensive wine? In addition, it's a bit of an insult to the restaurant to pair their food with an inexpensive $4 bottle of wine. As a rule of thumb, don't bring a wine that costs less than the least expensive bottle on the restaurant's wine list.

If you want to be welcomed back next time, don't forget to offer the server or sommelier a taste of the wine you bring. This is only courteous, and it's the least you can do, even if your offer is declined. Besides, you may have a really fine bottle of wine that the sommelier would appreciate tasting.

Although you may save a few dollars by bringing your own wine, that's really not the point. Enjoying food and wine is a uniquely personal experience, and bringing your own wine is another way to complement the dining experience.

Bon Appetit and Cheers!


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