I was in a restaurant the other night and struck by the cost of wine. It's getting pretty hard to find something decent under $50 and most of the interesting wines are $70 and above. Even when I realize the markup can be as high as 400 percent, I still want wine with my dinner. It isn't unusual to get a staggering bill of more than $200 a couple. That's just nuts.
I know, it doesn't make sense when the wine bill is often more than the food bill, but for my wife and I wine is as much a part of the experience as the food.
But, in the hands of a good wine manager or somm, reasonable wines can be found at the right price. Take,for instance, the Cotes du Rhone. I recently enjoyed a Chateau St. Cosme for $46. It was one of the cheapest wines on the menu, but I bet it also was one of the best. I could have ordered current vintages of Bordeaux that wouldn't have showed any where near as well as the St. Cosme. And with country French food on the plate, it was a perfect match.
The Rhone Valley offers great values whether the wines hail from the Cotes du Rhone, Vacqueyras, Saint Joseph, etc.
The other night I uncorked several 10-year-old chateauneuf du papes and regaled in their quality. I don't think I spent more than $40 for any of them. Even though Bordeaux dominates my cellar, the Rhone Valley is my favorite for both current drinking and long-term cellaring.
It really annoys me when a restaurant list of expensive wines fails to provide the right alternatives to appeal to frugal customers. It's not hard if you have a good manager or wine steward.