“Do you have a corkage fee if we can’t live without our California wine?”

On the “wine” page over at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I curate the wine list, there’s a link that allows guests to email me their questions. They mostly write to ask if we allow corkage…

From: A.
Date: Mar 9, 2012 8:17 PM
To: Jeremy Parzen
Subject: Do you have beer?

Hi Jeremy,

We’re looking forward to our dinner at Sotto tomorrow evening, but I had two questions.

First, do you have any beers available?

Second, do you have a corkage fee if we can’t live without our California wine?

Thank you,

A.

From: Jeremy Parzen
Date: March 10, 2012 8:20 AM
To: A.
Subject: Re: Do you have beer?

Hi A., thanks so much for your interest in Sotto.

We do have beer available, yes.

And corkage is $25 per bottle with a 2 bottle max.

We also include Californian wine on our last — all by Natural winemakers (i.e., chemical-free farming, spontaneous fermentation via native yeast, and low sulfuring).

Here are a few great articles on the etiquette of corkage, one by Lettie Teague and another by a northern Californian connoisseur.

http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/corkage-for-dummies

http://forkandbottle.com/wine/corkage.htm

We have roughly 15-20 wines by the glass on any given day: your server will be happy to offer you a taste of any of them (and they are all available by the bottle).

I kindly ask you to consider that there is a reason why we have chosen the wines for our list: they pair exceedingly well with our chefs’ food. And they express our gastronomic aesthetic.

Please ask for the wine captain tonight. His name is Rory and he will be more than happy to find you a bottle that suits your taste and expectations.

And if truly you can find no wine from my selection of Southern Italian and Natural Californian, please feel free to take advantage of the corkage policy (although we hope that corkage will be reserved for unique, rare, and/or older vintages of special wines).

Thanks again and best wishes, Jeremy


Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D.
http://DoBianchi.com
http://twitter.com/DoBianchi
http://facebook.com/jparzen

6 Responses to “Do you have a corkage fee if we can’t live without our California wine?”

  1. First of all: COS as you know is a wine for which you and I share a huge passion. I adore those wines.
    Second: what did they say to your answer?

  2. hande says:

    bravo. at least they asked.

  3. Keith L. says:

    Gosh, I don’t think this response is appropriate at all. Six paragraphs trying to make someone feel embarrassed about taking advantage of a corkage policy is worse than no corkage policy at all. (Strange that the beer query is answered frankly while the wine query gets the lecture — whatever wine they planned on bringing, it couldn’t have differed from the wines on the list as much as beer differs from wine… yet the beer query doesn’t result in a request to consider the wine list instead for something that pairs exceedingly well with the chefs’ food.)

    It would have been better simply to inform the customer that the list features many California selections without insinuating that the restaurant’s selections are superior to what the customer would have brought, even if it’s likely true. Perhaps I’m being persnickety — and I do understand the point it is trying to convey — but I also find the phrase “unique, rare, and/or older vintages of special wines” to be rather haughty. (What, exactly, is a “unique” vintage of a wine? “Unique” means one-of-a-kind and I’m pretty sure that no vintage year qualifies for that honorific, unless someone has the last surviving bottle of an A.D. CLXIII Falernum. And what’s the litmus for “special” status? In context, the phrase is so prone to subjectivity that all it really conveys is, “Whatever wine you were thinking of, it probably doesn’t qualify.”)

    If a history of abuse of the corkage policy makes such a response necessary, it should be posted on the restaurant’s web page with the customer gently referred to the URL for a statement of the restaurant’s policy, rather than making the customer feel personally singled out for a scolding, which is how I would have construed this response if it had been directed to me. (Two links to articles on “etiquette”? Really? Do customers who use the wrong fork have an edition of Emily Post delivered to the table?) Had I received this email, I likely would have emailed back something snarky along the lines of, “Thank you for the information about your corkage program. I look forward to meeting Rory, but I hope you will understand that I only order wines off of a restaurant wine list when they offer unique, rare, and/or older vintages of special wines….”)

    I might also speculate that if an excessive number of people who consult the wine list on the web site end up asking about corkage, perhaps they are intimidated by a list of unfamiliar labels — and the list could do more to educate them than simply listing the names of those unfamiliar wines.

    • Do Bianchi says:

      Keith, wow, thank you for your thoughtful comment and taking the time to reflect on this issue.

      My response to the guest was indeed snarky. There’s no denying that.

      The issue of corkage and how offensive it is when people insist on bringing cheap super market wines has been a subject I’ve been writing about here for the last week or so.

      In fact, our list at Sotto includes wines that are unique and rare and we also feature older vintages of wines like Taurasi, Cirò, and Vallone Graticciaia.

      In my view of the world, going to a restaurant is like going to someone’s house for dinner. It’s a good rule of thumb: when you go to a restaurant, treat your host as you would the host of a dinner party in private home.

      How would you feel if you had a dinner party and one of your guests arrived with her own wine explaining that “she just can’t live without her wine”. Now, there’s a case of Emily Post!

      Ask any of the great U.S. sommeliers and they’ll tell you the same thing. While they allow corkage, the abuse of corkage is simply heartbreaking in our country. (Raj Parr and Bobby Stuckey, btw, both retweeted this post in agreement.)

      Thanks for your insights here… all viewpoints are welcome… I hope to taste with you one of these days.

      • Keith L. says:

        No doubt the corkage privilege is oft-abused, but what I’m reacting to here is the *presumption* of abuse before the act. All the diners indicated here was that they wanted to bring something from California. Possibly they had a cheap supermarket wine in mind; possibly it was a $500 cult cab that tastes even worse than the cheap supermarket wine. I doubt most would regard the latter as an abuse of the corkage policy even though the wine may be equally incompatible with the gastronomic aesthetic the restaurant is aiming for, which is why the email comes across as such a kick below the belt—basically saying, It doesn’t sound like you can afford to bring a wine we’d approve of….

        I can’t agree that the rules of etiquette for dining in a restaurant are the same as being someone’s houseguest, since the rule doesn’t apply in the opposite direction. (I assume you leave your guests with a bill at the end of the meal, which is not something most hosts do for their dinner-party guests.)

        None of this is to diminish legitimate concerns that corkage privileges are too often abused. I think my proposal above to post a gently worded statement on the restaurant’s web site can help—so that it comes across as a message to everyone, rather than singling someone out for a horrible breach of etiquette, which is itself something of a breach of etiquette.

        But maybe it’s better just to tolerate the abuse as the price of providing the best possible hospitality to people who actually “get it.” Is the person who brings a lousy wine really any worse than the person who orders “just a salad” or asks for 9 ingredient substitutions? (I admit, I have fantasized about the justice of imposing the equivalent of a corkage fee on people who abuse a menu in that fashion….)

        I’ll be sure to bring something worthy or try your old Taurasi if I’m ever in CA!

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