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It All Began at Hattie’s

November 22, 2009

How often do wine stories in major national newspapers begin with a local restaurant?  What makes this especially big news for me is that John and Dottie from the Wall Street Journal are two of my favorite wine writers, period.

They have a great approach to the subject.  Instead of finding a few specific wines and writing lascivious lists of aroma and flavor profiles, then scoring them on a cheap and tawdry 100-point scale, they do something different.

The two of them conduct broad and blind tastings of a category of wines.  Sometimes it is high-end stuff, like first growth Bordeaux or U.S. chardonnay priced between $40 and $70.  Other times, like they did yesterday, they will do a tasting of an emerging grape that is just starting to see widespread distribution.

And the ultimate goal is not to send the reader searching for a specific bottle, but rather to give one the sense of how likely it is to pick up an interesting bottle from a specific section (and price point) of a reputable wine store.

So the two of them shared a bottle of carmenere at Hattie’s in Saratoga Springs over fried chicken and greens, and were so moved by the experience it inspired them to conduct this week’s tasting.

One of the things that came out of the tasting reminded me of a question I was asked earlier this month about restaurant wine markups.

It turns out that the best value from their blind tasting was the same bottle they had ordered at Hattie’s.  The retail price is $9 and they reported spending $28 for the bottle at the restaurant.

The bottom line is that how much a restaurant marks up its wine is a business decision based on a lot of factors.  Certainly I appreciate restaurants that lower the barriers for their customers to enjoy wine with their meals.  The best examples of this are those restaurants with adjacent retail wine operations that sell wine at retail to their diners.

However, there are real costs to running a good wine program.  Glasses, storage, management and training are all time-intensive and costly concerns.  It is restaurants that do not engage in any of these practices yet still mark up their wines significantly that I take issue with.

I haven’t been to Hattie’s and I haven’t spent a lot of time with their wine list.  But they clearly have someone spending time to pick out interesting wines at the lower end of the price spectrum if they were able to have such an impact on John and Dottie.

So, yes, $28 for a $9 wine is a significant markup.  I tend to choke on bottles that are more than 200% their retail price.  But $28 for a wine that has been predetermined to go well with your food, heighten your enjoyment of the meal, and leave you with a great bargain wine for future retail purchase isn’t a terrible deal.

Overall, I was thrilled with this article.
1)    A local restaurant received national attention.
2)    I came to realize that my favorite wine writers periodically visit the region.
3)    It gives me another reason to make the drive to Saratoga and finally try Hattie’s.
4)    I look forward to drinking a few more bottles of carmenere in the weeks to come.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonathan permalink
    November 22, 2009 2:18 pm

    My favorite Carmenere I’ve found is made by Odfjell Vineyards, it’s called “Orzada”. Also Santa Rita makes a really nice ‘Reserve’ Carmenere, easier to find than the “Orzada” but side by side it fell a little short. Just don’t make the common mistake and call it Carmen-yair. I did that at first, then a wise fellow pointed out to me. “Hey, there’s no Y. It’s Carmen-air”

  2. Jennifer permalink
    November 23, 2009 10:38 am

    Woohoo, I love wine recommendations where the wine is under 10 bucks.

    And Mr. Fussy, do get yourself to Hattie’s to enjoy their fried chicken. I know you’ve spoken about not mixing carbs with your meat (is that only with barbeque?) but I highly recommend the mac and cheese on the side.

    Best fried chicken in the capital region, for sure.

    Damn, this is going to lead to a craving that must be fulfilled.

  3. Jennifer permalink
    November 25, 2009 8:10 am

    Craving fulfilled. We ate there last night, the chicken was as wonderful as always although I did not drink wine with it.

    If you go, do not waste your time with dessert. I had some truly terrible sweet potato pie. I could not even get my fork through the crust, it was that dense. Not a flake in sight, just a gummy solid mass. Eww, thinking of it makes me shudder. Pie is not exactly rocket science so whoever makes those should be fired immediately. My partner thought they were frozen.

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