Small Carafe Warning
If you order your wine by the glass when you go out for dinner, you may be getting gouged.
Some high-end restaurateurs are increasing their already inflated profits on booze by hiding small servings behind those elegant, single-serving carafes and humongous glasses. You've seen them popping up at places like Tarbell's, the Phoenician, Flemings, Convivo, Cowboy Ciao, Rancho Pinot Grill and Barmouche. A server brings your wine in the carafe, then pours some of it into a giant glass. The carafe is left on your table and you pour the rest.
A standard "pour" when you order wine by the glass is six ounces. A wine bottle holds 24.5 ounces, which yields roughly four glasses per bottle. And servers at these restaurants will tell you the carafe holds the regular six-ounce pour. Yet with half the carafe quickly dumped into such massive stemware, it's hard to see if you're getting shorted.
After a local chef recently admitted that restaurants sometimes short the customer by putting only five ounces in these small carafes, I thought I'd check it out.
Armed with a nine-ounce plastic baby bottle, I measured carafe pours at several of our top restaurants. The results ranged from a depressing five ounces to a decadent seven ounces. Most important, not a single restaurateur threw me out when he glimpsed me dumping my wine into the baby bottle.
Tarbell's is where I'll be drinking most of my wine from now on. The evening I was there, the restaurant stuffed a full seven ounces of Peter Zemmer Pinot ($7.50 a glass) in my carafe.
Flemings, Convivo and Cowboy Ciao all measured out at six ounces in their carafes. The Thirsty Camel at the Phoenician was close, with 5.75 ounces.
But Barmouche and Rancho Pinot Grill -- tsk, tsk. Each managed only a meager five ounces in the carafe served at my table.
Proponents of the decanters, such as the experts at Scottsdale's Epicurean Wine Service, say that when used ethically, the vessels provide restaurants with instant portion control, plus they allow guests to "swirl" their wines in regular-size glasses "to better appreciate bouquet and aroma."
Considering that the average restaurant marks its wines up about 33 percent over retail cost, though, every ounce matters.
The best ammunition against getting soaked by a restaurant's wines, certainly, is to order by the bottle. You'll still be a profit center for the restaurant -- considering a restaurant's wholesale purchase price, inexpensive wines may be marked up as much 600 percent, notes The Beard House magazine -- but at least you're sure to savor every last drop for which you've paid.
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