Folks - HOW DO YOU DO IT ???


I´m not a very regular writer, but read thru most of the posting here.
Quite often there are reports about private offlines or dinners with a broad, high class and very expensive wine selection, be it in some restaurants in the States, Canada, GB, Aussie, Scandinavia, or during a trip in wine regions - France or wherever.

Please do not misunderstand me, I´m far from envious or jealous, I have quite a good living, spend a lot of money for buying wine, I go to top class restaurants too now and then, participate in wine tastings wherever possible, spending good money for fine wines, but I cannot spend for instance a whole week visiting expensive restaurants every evening, drink the Grand Crus from rare producers on the list up and down (even when sharing with friends) when the bill must be in the thousands of $ or € — certainly with heavy restaurant markups threefold+ of retail.

My question is simply: HOW DO YOU DO THIS?

Are most bottles BYO and you pay the fees? Or are you such a huge crowd that a bottle is shared between 15 guys?
Or are there special contacts for bargain offers? Or are you simply so wealthy that it doesn´t matter?
Or what is it? [scratch.gif]

I´m just curious. flirtysmile

Although an awkward topic, I’m kind of glad Robert just came right out and asked what was on his mind.

There is of course no single answer. I think most of the wine dinners you read about on here are BYOB, either at a restaurant that allows it or at a private residence, and typically each person brings a bottle or two, though sometimes one person is the host for a given night and brings all the wines. Very often, the tasting notes mention the circumstances in which the tasting came together.

Usually when people order the wines off the list, they mention it, and it’s fairly rare that the big tastings of many great bottles come off this way. Most of the time, those are because people are pulling from their personal collections.

As far as how people afford it, there is of course a range, but many WBers are well off to varying degrees. And many WBers (myself included) lament that we spend more than makes sense on wine and can be kind of compulsive in collecting and acquiring.

Usually, dinner at a good but not totally extravagant restaurant, where all the wines are BYOB, is not too big of a splurge, since corkage here in California usually ranges from $10-25 per bottle, and is sometimes free or waived. Of course, there’s the cost of having purchased and stored the wines that are brought, but that’s sort of a sunk cost by that point. When we do BYOB tasting dinners at The Playground here in Santa Ana (Orange County), which is a terrific restaurant with free corkage, we get out of there at $40-70 per person, so it’s not too big of a hit.

To the questions in your last paragraph, other than BYOB and sometimes the places that we get free or waived corkage, I don’t think there’s any secret or trick to it. It’s just what you can and are willing to do, I guess.

I hope you have some great tasting experiences ahead, Robert. All the best to you.


I didn´t mean the strictly private offlines - and it is also clear that most WB have a good sorted cellar, myself included.
I meant the dinners and huge tastings in restaurants or other public locations - where usually prices of wines are (too) high.

I also spend a lot of money for wine - and we open quite a few in private tastings - but that was not the question.

(BTW: I always thought it´s no shame in the US to have money … that´s also how I see it - no problem if someone is wealthy enough to order several La Tache off a resti-list … :wink:

As Chris wrote, pretty much everything we do in London is BYOB at restaurants that are wine friendly. The insanity of buying off the list at >4x mark ups is what lead me to start a wine collection in the first place.

I´ve been in London (and many other places) several times - and I always wondered who for Gods sake is buying all these expensive bottles off the wine list ? Someone has to - otherwise it wouldn´t be there. [scratch.gif]

Robert, at what price do you think a wine becomes “too high”…that’s unclear? Are you talking $200/bottle, higher? Where is the too high price?

Plenty of incredibly wealthy people in London for whom several thousand dollars for a bottle of wine at lunch is an irrelevance.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but happy to speak for myself.

I travel to interesting places, have big wine dinners with friends, etc. I would NEVER buy off any wine list at a big markup for a wine event.

When traveling through France, Spain, etc, many of the better restaurants have very fair prices for interesting wines, I’m good with that.

And for the big (between 8 people and 12 people) wine dinners that I’m involved with maybe 6-8 times a year, we ALWAYS bring our own wine.

Bottles can be fantastic, food can be fantastic, but a $20 (or even $50) corkage beats the hell out of paying retail x 4 for the wine.

Also BYO allows you to work out the event ahead of time, exact theme and bottles…

with too high I meant the restaurant mark-ups … always compared to retail prices. 200 can be a good price for some Burgundy Grand Crus, but far too much for a nice Chateauneuf.

Too high for restaurant bills depends on “for whom”, but I certainly cannot spend a weeks income for a single dinner in a restaurant - unless it´s an anniversary etc

I don’t know this from personal experience but I’ve read several times that some restaurants feel they have to have (for example) DRC on the list so they buy one or two bottles and then price it high enough that no one will buy it so it stays on the list. And then if someone with huge amounts of money does buy it all the better as they can replace it at a fraction of the cost.

And almost every wine dinner I’m at is a BYOB affair.

While I almost never order wine bottles from restaurants because of the silly markups, you have to understand that there are a LOT of rich folks that are into wine and can pretty much afford to drop whatever coin they have whenever they want to. Certainly, not being in that league, I am just a tad bit envious, but I enjoy reading their notes and certainly wouldn’t mind getting invited and going along for the ride. But i would add, as others have here, that many of the restaurant meals you see here are BYOB, so the real cost is simply retail.

+2 for the Atlanta area things we do. Almost exclusively BYOB. We have very good cellars and there is no reason to go somewhere and pay exorbitant
prices for wines that are basically daily drinkers.

As far as travel, the list prices of wines in Europe and some very select restaurants in the US are sometimes attractive. Occasionally those places (like Bern’s) become the destination.
There are many restaurants in Europe where the price on the list is below the release price retail here in the USA. A great time to try things like Coche-Dury.


Most of the wine dinners I attend in restaurants here in LA are BYOB; luckily the general attitude is BYOB-friendly (with some exceptions). But depending on the restaurant and their wine list, we may mix up BYOB with buying some wines off the list.


I think people covered it above. As far as ordering off the lists - one of the only places people go and order off the list is probably Bern’s, and those may often be expense-account dinners. They often are when they involve importers/distributors. And of course, sometimes they’re just done by people who can afford them more easily than other people. I’m a prole, so most of the dinners I’ve attended anywhere involve BYO. But remember that people have picked up wine at various points in their lives and a wine you may have paid $30 for is now $250, so it seems far more extravagant when you finally open it.

Sometimes it’s a matter of conspicuous consumption. Sometimes it’s not such a regular thing for the participants and they just want to share their excitement, perhaps precisely because it isn’t a regular occurrence for them. Reading about the dinners doesn’t mean it’s the same people all the time.

Plus, sometimes you don’t read a thing. I’ve had many dinners where we opened many old and rare wines but since I’d be the only one who posts regularly, no notes ever appeared anywhere. Those wines were usually shared by people who picked them up at the source many years ago, or who somehow got great deals through dealer connections. I counted myself lucky to be included but don’t spend time during a dinner writing notes when I’m really there to enjoy the company, food, and wine.

As far as $200 being too high for CdP but not for Burgundy - that’s wine marketing. Imagine that you bought a bunch of Burgundy a few years ago. Or Bordeaux even. And fifteen years later, the prices are through the roof. Eventually CdP will be at the same price, they’ll figure out some kind of angle for their marketing a la the “terroir” stories of Burgundy, and the $200 won’t seem as high. The guy who stashed a lot of it at $40 will be happy. Or maybe not, since he may no longer be able to enjoy the wines at their new pricing plateaus.

Anchoring effects. If there’s a super-expensive bottle on the list, it makes the rest of the less seem more affordable by comparison. If a list has three bottles priced $50, $75, and $100, vs three bottles priced $50, $100, $200, people will order the $100 bottle much more frequently from the second list than the first.

Makes sense.

I’ve also read that the 2nd least expensive bottle or glass is the one most frequently ordered.

I think your whole perception is wrong, it’s really rare that the wines being drunk at dinners posted on this board are purchased off the list. Almost all byob

Assuming you are looking for a step by step plan, here is what I have done successfully:

  • Browse the internet for local restaurants that offer BYOB for low to no corkage. You will find many with no corkage on M-T nights to drum up business and get people out on a school night; or

  • Establish a good relationship with a restaurant that you frequent and then inquire if they would let you bring in bottles. Otherwise, make friends with people who do like I have. Note that in this case, my friends and I often will tip higher as a thank you for the extra glass service

  • Inquire as to whether you can order off of the menu and/or have tasting menus and what the price range would be is. This is suprisingly more affordable than most people realize (I’ll talk prices below in a moment).

_ If they will not allow BYOB, browse the wine list and prices afterwards and decide if your wallet is able to deal with the price shock. If not, then it’s time to choose another venue.

Let’s assume they allow BYOB and will accomodate your food budget. Take the following steps next:

  • If the chef requests, advise which wines you will be bringing beforehand

  • Let the staff know how big the party is and if you will require decanters, ice buckets, spittoons and/or a private room (this may or may not cost extra)

  • Choose some classy expensive wines you have always been dying to open that you have purchased at auction and/or retail – or else make friends with people who have such wines and invite them – and then show up with them on day of, informing the staff which ones should be refrigerated/chilled in ice bucket and which need decanting

  • Eat, drink and be merry and offer the staff a courtesy taste of every wine you have brought, especially those who have served you directly and the sommelier if they have attended to you as well; you may even want to send some to the kitchen staff in the back as well

  • Pay your bill, give, thanks, tip high and get home safely via taxi, bus or subway

See? That wasn’t so hard. Now as for prices… from what I have experienced, most tasting menus run anywhere from $50 - $150 CDN depending on how high-end you eat and I have no reason to believe the pricing would be that different for you Yankees. However, you must also factor in tax, tip, and corkage fees if any.

If wine flights are being added because there is no BYOB, look to tack on an additional $50 - 150 before tax and tip.

The two most reasonable meal costs I had for high-end tasting menus with wine ordered off of the list were $200 and $250 each before tax and tip. I did not find this cost to be unreasonable given the quality and value of the food, wine and service provided. When it has been BYOB, I have paid anywhere from $60 to $150 which I didn’t find unreasonable either.

Obviously BYOB is your best bet for both affordability and diversity of wine choices. Either way, this is something you should be able to do on somewhat of a regular basis if you have a steady job and make good coin. I am certainly not wealthy by any means and have a fair amount of debt to pay off, but I have a good job that pays well and I can afford to do this about once or twice a month as well as purchase a reasonable amount of wine per month.

So one need not necessarily be a high-roller to engage in this type of lifestyle. One merely has to put in some research and effort and cultivate the right friendships with people who like drinking Montrachets and Meursaults as opposed to Yellow Tail and Barefoot wines while keeping a proper eye on their budget.

Good thread here.

I also think expensive trophy wines are on restaurant lists for expense account business and marketing dinners. Pharma rep takes the doctors out to Morton’s and buys the bottle of Chateau Margaux off the list, that sort of thing.

It’s also true that in Italy at least (I’m not familiar with this in other countries in Europe), great and older bottles of wine on restaurant lists are often marked up very little, sometimes not at all. I don’t think that really accounts for these large tasting dinners posted on WB more than once in a great while, but it might explain some of the times you see tasting notes of great Italian wines purchased off restaurant lists in Piedmont or Montalcino.

I think I’ve only seen him posting on facebook, not here, but I’m wondering what kind of mortgage Joe Wu took out for his current Burgundy trip :wink:

But back to the original question, my perception is that we have here a combination of people whose main hobby is wine (so they naturally spend money on good bottles, instead of boats or motorcycles - though some do both). We drink well above our “station” relative to the general public, because it’s what we choose to spend money on; and yes, there are some well-off folks around who are long time collectors, and often very generous with what they open for other people.