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Wednesday, Oct 16 1996
Wines for More -- or Less
One way to guarantee vastly overpaying for wine is to order it in a restaurant. An even better way is to order wine by the glass. Restaurants typically resell bottles of wine at double or triple the price they paid for them. And, according to Trey Jenkins, wine buyer for the PlumpJack Cafe and manager of its neighboring wine shop, an informal rule of thumb in pricing wine by the glass is to make the first glass pay for the whole bottle.

"Generally, in order to make money in the restaurant business, you need to mark up wine and liquor," Jenkins says. But it's a different story at PlumpJack, which charges only what Jenkins calls "full retail" for wine by the bottle -- a markup of 50 percent (instead of 250 to 300 percent) over the restaurant's wholesale cost.

"It's just smart" to do it that way, he says. "We want younger people to buy wine, and we're looking for good values instead of labels. I like the fact that people are getting a value and don't know it." And as for the potential loss of revenue, it's made up by volume. "We sell a lot of wine," Jenkins says, "as much as a place three times our size." In fact, Jenkins sees the wine shop's competition as the big discounters such as Cost Plus and Beverages & More.

The good word about value pricing of wine may be flowing forth at last from PlumpJack. Recently a friend complained to me that she'd paid more than $5 for a glass of Sterling Vineyards sauvignon blanc at Stars Cafe. "That's as much as I pay for a whole bottle at the store!" she said -- proving Jenkins' point.

But Stars Cafe is getting with the full-retail program, according to General Manager Ralph Rosenberg, especially with its upper-end wines, many of which are sold at 150 percent of cost.

"People want perceived value," he explains. "They want the most out of their dollar, and consumers in San Francisco are much more educated about wine than they are in other parts of the state."

Those consumers must be picking up on something: Sales of bottled wine are up 35 percent at Stars Cafe this year, Rosenberg says. Meanwhile, by-the-glass sales "really grew for a while," he says, especially with the pre-theater or -symphony crowd that frequents the nearby cafe. "But there's a perception that wines by the glass aren't very good wines."

That's probably not true, but certainly no one's willing to say that wine by the glass is a good deal, because it isn't. For the better stuff at a better price, go for the bottle. You might be pleasantly surprised when the check arrives.

By Paul Reidinger

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Paul Reidinger


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