The holidays bring good cheer, joy, peace, and all of that good stuff, but they can also bring frightening credit card bills. All of those celebratory restaurant meals add up, so here are some tips to maximize your wine budget when you go out to eat.
1. Buy the bottle, not the glass: Here’s a little insider secret: by-the-glass prices at restaurants often reflect the price that the restaurant paid for the entire bottle of wine. (They’re covering themselves if only one person orders a glass of that wine that night). So you’re better off ordering a bottle and sharing. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to take the bottle home if you don’t finish it, as long as you put it in the trunk.
2. This isn’t high school, and popularity isn’t necessarily a good thing: The most popular and classic grape varieties (chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon), regions (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, etc.) and brands (e.g. Silver Oak, Santa Margherita) are priced accordingly. If you’re looking for a bargain, choose less well-known grapes like Argentina’s wonderfully aromatic torrontés, undiscovered regions like Italy’s Campania, or a brand you haven’t heard of before.
3. Beware the second cheapest bottle: Many of us are apt to choose the second cheapest bottle of wine on the list (a practice made famous and hilarious by this College Humor video for fear of appearing too cheap, but restaurants have picked up on this and often price gouge you for the second cheapest bottle. The cheapest bottle, by comparison, can be quite a good value.
4. Don’t discount the house wine: House wine gets a bad rap in the U.S., but the quality has improved in the last several years, especially in cities located close to wine growing regions or at high quality restaurants. Sometimes it can be the best value on the menu.
5. BYOW: Bringing your own wine can save you the (ludicrous) markup on restaurant bottles, but be sure to call ahead to find out if the restaurant allows it (most charge a corkage fee), and don’t bring a bottle that is already on the restaurant’s wine list. The point of bringing your own wine is not solely to save money but to enjoy a special bottle, so leave the $8 merlot at home.