29-08-2013 ~ 8 Comments

Making a ripoff in a wine glass


While it’s hard to complain about the price of a glass of wine in Spain given that in San Francisco or New York, you can pay upwards of $12 in a wine bar, there’s plenty of bottle sticker shock going on. Take for instance the shot of a wine menu in an expensive restaurant in the center of Barcelona. Again, maybe 4€ doesn’t seem like a high price to pay given that they have a poshy interior and all, but take a minute to absorb something: the retail price of this wine is 5.20€. And that’s the retail price. A restaurant would pay more like 3.50-4€ for a bottle, so yes, they are charging what is essentially a full bottle price on one glass. You’d better make sure you get a solid pour…

There exists something of a schism in Catalonia currently, in that excellent wine is produced here, but the wine lists in Catalonia–and particularly Barcelona–are shit. The selection is horrid, usually consisting of Rioja wines or others that aren’t local, just cheap as dirt. Historically, the “vi de la casa” (or “house wine”) should be something that establishment owners would choose to drink as it represents a solid price/quality relation, but what ultimately happens is that it’s grape-based poison not fit to wash a dog’s ass. And then of course there are the massive markups such as the newly opened and very trendy Martinez who has a wine that retails for 7-8€ on their menu listed at 22€. Assuming around 5€ of restaurant cost, that makes a 440% markup!

But these are just the problems with bottle markups which while crap, have been that way for some time. The real punch in the grapes to almighty Bacchus is when it comes to the menu of wines by the glass. These typically consist of the cheapest wines from the cheapest regions and the restaurant will pay less than 3€ for these bottles. Even in expensive, fine dining restaurants they often don’t have anything by the glass or at most one/two choices. The general preference is to push whole bottles. Naturally, these aren’t often a good choice for couples with different tastes, or when the wife is pregnant.

Okay, so this is problematic, but the typical arguments when this point is brought up are, “Well, that’s just the price of eating out”, “Yeah, restaurants make their money in the drinks”, or “What do you expect, they’re a restaurant!” None of these arguments holds water though as if you just wanted to drink, then you would go to a bar, or ultimately stay in and enjoy a wine that you want to enjoy at a good price. The fact is that in a restaurant, the wines are there as a complement to the food. They should accentuate what’s great about it and offer an additional depth and nuances to the meal. Instead you end up with something that makes you want to order another bottle of water in order to wash down its acrid, overly acidity body.

Coming back around to how this sits in Catalonia, it needs to be noted that there has been and most likely will continue to be massive unemployment. Even people with income are generally broke. Why do restaurants think that they are entitled to markup wines so drastically and offer such a terrible choice all in the name of the almighty “crisis”? It only works against them as sensible people then don’t want to eat out and don’t want to order wine, especially when there is no local wine to be had at a good price.

This was perfectly illustrated when eating at a restaurant in Girona that was half full on a Friday. We asked for a wine from nearby Empordà. They said that it was out of stock. We asked for another which they also said was out of stock. We then asked why the only wines in stock were from Rioja or other regions outside of Catalonia? They said that nobody ordered these local wines which then made us contend that it’s extremely hard to order something which doesn’t exist. The server shrugged, we didn’t order wine, and the restaurant is now out of business.

It’s no wonder that wine consumption in Spain in general and specifically in Catalonia continues to drop in favor of beer. It is one of the few things offering a “good” value at the moment. It’s a sad state of affairs when there are 12 DO regions that offer wines for just about all palates and wallets.