Ode to Overpriced Restaurant Wines

waiterLong ago and far away, there were restaurants — restaurants with crisp white linens, sparkling crystal, real silver silverware, and  a snotty and condescending Maitre d’.  These restaurants were in places like New York and Las Vegas, and they were frequented by rich people, businessmen with expense accounts, and a few tourists from Des Moines who stumbled in by mistake.

The menus were written in a French or Italian to make even ordinary food sound exotic (Cocotte d’Andouille de Thon instead of Tuna Noodle Casserole), and if you had to ask the prices, you shouldn’t have been there. And the wine list… Better to call it the Wine Bible. It was bound in burgundy leather and about the size of — well, the Great Book itself. It listed every classic brand from Burgundy and Bordeaux, Napa and Tuscany, Rioja and the Rhine, all in verticals dating back to the Beginning of Creation.

And the Prices! These restaurants prided themselves on being able to over-charge the wine-drinking public with impunity. Whether the bottle was marked up two, three, or even four times the price you’d pay in a lowly retail shop, the rich guys and expense-account types kept on paying. They were more than happy to drink overpriced wine and be insulted by an arrogant Sommelier.

Until the Bottom Fell Out. In the Dark Days of Late 2009, the rich folks watched their net worth go into free fall, and the expense account credit cards were yanked from executives’ trembling hands. The result was that all those Very Pricey Wines started to gather dust in the cellars of those Very Expensive Restaurants.

The effects rippled outward. First, the wineries that were used to selling boatloads of their wine to Fine Restaurants saw it backing up in their warehouses. They started releasing it to wine shops, to whom they had previously refused to sell on the grounds that it would tarnish their image to be seen there.  Then, some wineries began to reduce their (often inflated) prices. Big Name Wines that previously wouldn’t be seen outside of Morton’s were found languishing in the discount bin at the Piggly Wiggly.

And two years later, where are we now?

Well, high-end wines are still being discounted. Wine shop owners and customers are as happy as pigs in poop, because they’re buying great wines at good prices. The owners of reasonably-priced restaurants, who always gave their customers good value for their money, are happy because their business has remained steady through all the down’s and up’s and down’s.

But the owners of Very Expensive Restaurants? They’re still not happy, because they suspect the Good Old Days pre-2009 may never return. It’s like the Apocalypse, or Armageddon, or Sodom and Gomorrha, or something Biblical. I say, Drink Up! It’s a Bargain!

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