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INSPECTOR VINO: Drinking in Public

Notes from a Wine Detective
By Inspector Vino, Special to tableauvivante

Drinking in Public

The binder gives way to your prying fingers with the creak of leather and the dusty smell of parchment. Conversation lulls as all eyes turn to you. You try to look confident and thoughtful as you peruse page after page, but the writing has somehow devolved into a sea of foreign symbols. Is it suddenly hot, or is it just you?

No, this isn’t your first recital. You’re dining out with friends and they’ve handed the wine list to you.

What to do when confronted with a veritable book of Bordeaux, Barolo, and more? One of the best solutions is B-Y-O-B. Most fine eateries welcome guests that bring their own bottle. But to properly preserve the privilege, there is some etiquette to be observed.


Call ahead to inquire about corkage. Some few places won’t allow it. While such provinciality doesn’t necessarily call for a boycott, it is a fair excuse to take your business elsewhere.

A $10 to $20 corkage fee is average. Bear in mind restaurant wine is about double, but can be up to triple the store price. That means the markup on a $50 bottle can be anywhere from $50 to $100. Even if you view corkage as a thinly veiled tax, $20 beats $100 every time.


Make the bottle you bring something special and be sure it’s not already on the list. You don’t want to look cheap or insult the chef. Consider offering the chef a glass. He or she may be able to tailor your meal to what you’re drinking. And if your party will be having two bottles, bring one and order the other. A lot of effort goes into designing a wine list that pairs well with the cuisine.

Classy places have been known to waive corkage for the right the bottle or event.

When it does come time to stare down a wine list, see how it’s organized. The old school’s standard is to arrange by region and varietal. This isn’t much help unless you see something you recognize.

Newer and better is a list that groups wines by style, often organizing them within groups from lighter to fuller bodied, for example. Some even suggest pairings. Still, it’s easy to be overcome. So just ask.

Wine is enjoying a renaissance. Servers are more versed and, not unlike their wines, younger and more approachable. The Internet seems rife with advice that assumes an adversarial relationship, but fine establishments employ career professionals with both a personal and financial stake in your enjoyment. Only happy customers come back.

If you pretend to know more than you do or try to impress your friends by challenging the sommelier’s advice, you may indeed see their snobby side. By admitting I’m lost, I’ve always been met with friendly, enthusiastic advice.

Of course, this just means you’re about to be interviewed on your tastes. So, for next time…

How to Ask for What You Want 


What to do When the Bottle Comes.


Tableau Vivante

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