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Occasionally a wine story makes the news beyond the tiny world of wine media. There has been a quirky, and unfortunate, story dominate wine chat the past few weeks. It’s a story of blindly ordering wine, questionable motives of a server, and a wine tab of nearly $4000.

First, the basics of the story which have been widely reported through numerous media outlets. Joe Lentini was with a group of associates at the Bobby Flay Steak restaurant at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, N.J.

Grape Sense LogoSomeone at his table of 10 asked him to order the wine. Joe, admittedly not a big wine guy, asked for advice. He asked for ‘something decent.” The server pointed to a bottle on the menu, which Joe couldn’t read because he forgot his glasses, and agreed.

But here is where the story takes a twist. Joe asked how much the wine cost and the server responded, “Thirty-seven fifty.”

See where this is headed?

The group enjoyed dinner and thought the wine was okay. Dinner is completed and the check arrived including a wine tab for one bottle of 2011 Screaming Eagle cabernet for $3,750.00 – not $37.50.

The diners complained they were misled by the server but the restaurant would not yield. They did bring the wine cost down to $2,200 which Joe and another diner split the cost. Everyone at the table confirmed Joe’s story.

I found the wine on numerous internet sites ranging from $1,300 to $2,100.

Check those prices carefully

Check those prices carefully

The incident sent the wine media all a Twittter (pun intended).

The restaurant stands by its employees. The Bobby Flay restaurant serves plenty of high-end diners and sells lots of high-end wine. But the mistake here is pretty clear. The server responded “thirty-seven fifty” when “three-thousand, seven-hundred, fifty” would have been much more appropriate.

The story is an opportunity to review some of the basics of ordering wine in any restaurant, but especially high-end spots.

First, fine-dining restaurants depend on wine revenue. The standard markup on food is small compared to the 100 percent and more markup of a bottle of wine. Casually taking a recommendation at a high-end establishment should never be as risky as it was in Jersey that night.

Still, know what you are ordering. A good server would have asked the diner if they had a price range and the incident would have never happened. There is nothing wrong with giving a waiter or wine steward a price point when ordering. Look at the wine list and find a price you are comfortable with before asking for a suggestion.

The final step in making sure you get what you ordered is to pay attention to the details on the wine list and make sure they match when the bottle is brought to the table. Things like the region in Napa, or wherever, and definitely the vintage year can significantly affect price on more expensive wines.

The final restaurant wine tip is an old one and a bit dubious but I have found it consistently accurate. Don’t order the cheapest bottle because no one wants to be that person. Some restaurants will actually mark up their cheapest bottles for a larger margin than moderately-priced bottles. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to figure that one out – they sell more of the cheaper bottles.

In a nice restaurant skip the first few bottles and order from the bottom/middle half (price-point wise) of the wine list. I find some of the best bargains in that niche’.

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