These are the responses received to the essay on wine mark-ups written by my guest essayist, restaurateur Chris Chown of Plas Bodegroes in Northwest Wales. Thanks to everyone who takes the trouble to respond.
Paul Anderson, Edinburgh, Scotland
First of all Chris, you seem to be a chef who cares about your art, are highly skilled and you price very well in order to preach the gospel of good food to as wide an audience as possible. £24.50 for ‘three courses of often Michelin-star standard’ is exceptional value for money. I just wish I stayed within reasonable distance to make it my local. I’ve eaten in many Michelin-starred restaurants in France (outwith Paris) and your prices compare favourably. Your markup policy does not sound unreasonable either, but I am puzzled as to why you are unable to reclaim the cost of corked wines. Is it because of the hassle involved ? As a private buyer, I have had no problems returning corked or problem wines. Surely you buy enough wine from your suppliers to demand a decent replacement service at no cost to yourself?
I have to say that being advised of what wine to have with what food is rather over-rated. There are a few basic rules to stick to but normally it is fairly easy to get a decent match. Do sommeliers really taste every wine on a list with that days menu in order to give an accurate and fair description of each individually, as well as how they go together ? Ever since I saw the inteview with Marco Pierre White’s sommelier telling Jancis Robinson that his job was to get the customer to pay more on wine than they intended to, I believe the desire to satisfy the customer has gone out of the window. I know all sommeliers are not the same but it would certainly make me treat them like timeshare salesmen in a mediterranean resort, unless proved otherwise.
I think that all restaurants should allow customers to have the choice of bringing their own wine. I go on holiday to France to buy wine because I cannot afford to buy the same wines in the same quantity at retail UK prices. It is very unlikely I can afford or justify the restaurant prices of Grand Cru Burgundy’s or similar every time I eat out. However I would love to be allowed to take my own, bought at affordable prices in France, because I am not a chef, but really would love to drink my great wines along with food cooked by a great chef. This is certainly something I have been able to enjoy in France and the marriage of food and wine, of which both are serious works of art, has certainly been a fantastic experience and still live on in my memory.
Harald Trost, Vienna, Austria
Dear Mr. Chown!
I read your letter about wine pricing in Britain. The situation is exactly the same in Austria. While I understand your point I must confess that exactly this situation makes me very cautious in ordering wine in good restaurants. I both step down on quality and quantity simply to save money.
I think the flaw is in the subsidy idea. Why should I (the wine-lover) subsidise somebody who prefers to accompany his/her meal with mineral water? There is something wrong about this!
For example, in Italy, you will find that the food is priced higher than in our country while the wine is likely to be not much more expensive than from the shop. This is reasonable! I can always buy a bottle of wine and enjoy it at home (and I do have a good cellar) while preparing a high-end 5-course meal is practically out of the question for me (although I am a passionate cook myself). OTOH, I should probably be glad to get food for a bargain…