Take It from the Wine Experts: Skip Sommelier Suggestions and Wine Store Markups

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To avoid overpaying for wine, start by ignoring the restaurant sommelier trying to make you look like a tightwad for not falling for his upselling techniques.

Do sommeliers really try to talk diners into ordering more expensive, yet possibly mediocre wines? Of course they do. The WSJ’s On Wine column rehashes the experiences of several restaurant-goers who recall with fresh annoyance the sommelier hard sell. The most eye-opening anecdote is provided by someone who happens to be a sommelier, and who nonetheless was victimized by a push sommelier:

Bobby Stuckey, the owner and wine director of Frasca in Boulder, Colo., said the sommelier of “a very nice” New York restaurant had subjected him and his wife, Danette, to a similar sales squeeze.

“We told the sommelier that we were looking at some wines in the $80-to-$100 range, and he kept pushing $180-to-$200 wines,” Mr. Stuckey said. “Clearly the guy didn’t care about us—he just wanted to get the check average up.”

Now, there’s a solid argument to be made that even the $80 bottles were among the biggest rip-offs in America, seeing as any old bottle of wine is subject to a markup of up to 500% when served at a restaurant. But obviously, the more expensive the wine, the more potential there is for overpaying in a big way. In any event, here’s the WSJ’s advice:

… the next time a sommelier uses the word “special” when describing a bottle, grab hold of your wallet—or better yet, go to a restaurant where they’ll allow you to BYOB. After all, you can’t be upsold on a wine that you bring yourself.

And where are you going to get that wine you bring yourself? The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine editor recommends bypassing the wine shop and buying directly from the wineries themselves:

… more wineries realize the only way to make numbers work on a small scale is to sell more wine themselves, capturing up to 40 percent of the sticker price they otherwise have to spread through the other two tiers of the system. Direct-to-consumer isn’t a catchall solution, but it’s a way to support wineries you believe in – and ultimately to create pressure on the current system.

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