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Tags - corkage
One of the secrets frequent wine drinkers indulge in is bringing their own wine along when they eat out at a favorite or new restaurant. It's called paying a corkage fee referring to the fact the waiter is merely uncorking the wine for you, decanting if necessary and providing the guests with wine glasses. This is a very common practice in many Western countries but it's a much rarer practice in Israel but growing in popularity as the wine industry and culture matures.
The advantage for the wine drinker becomes obvious when the numbers are crunched. Let's take a bottle of wine that retails for about 40 NIS. I know one restaurant that sells the wine to diners for 130 NIS. This is a common mark-up for wine in restaurants. The restuarant charges 30 NIS for a corkage fee. So if you brought in a simiiar wine it would cost you 40 plus 30 equling 70 NIS almost half the price of buying it on premises. The savings even get more dramatic when you consider 100 NIS bottles might go for over 300 NIS when dining out.
Some restuarant owners, managers and waiting staffs are dumbfounded when you ask about corkage fees but there are some traditional customs about corkage fees that the consumer should expect to comply with including:
1) Most corkage fees are per bottle and I've seen them range from 10 NIS to 50 NIS in Israel. I've heard a few restaurants charge per person which is saying they really don't want to encourage the practice. Some restuarants who wanted to encourage new customers have completely waived the charge for those ordering entrees.
2) It's customary not to bring in wines that are already on the wine list. Restuarants realize that even with a list of hundreds of wines (which isn't uncommon in the US or Europe but very uncommon in Israel) that they can't stock every wine for every customer's taste (though some make a better effort than others). So, if you have your heart set on a wine it's sort of a way of the restuarant saying we'd rather you eat here if you have the wine we don't carry. Call ahead and check if you're unsure.
3) It's customary to offer a small taste to the waiter, sommelier or manager. Many will refuse but still it's a noble gesture and it should typically be less than a half a glass. It's a way of educating the staff and sometimes if they're appreciative on being introduced to a new exciting wine they haven't tried they'll waive the corkage charge. It's one of the easier things not to ring up on your bill since no one typically tracks corkage fees as they do food and beverage orders.
4) Some wine shops and wineries have special relationships with restaurants that will waive corkage for bottles brought in to encorage being referred by the shop or winery.
As you begin to become a corkage fee practitioner, you'll find yourself becoming more comfortable with what at first might seem a bit awkward and not for the faint of heart but the savings might help you drink better wine and more frequently as you dine out.
David Rhodes worked at wineries in California & Israel, hosted over 100 wine parties.as a sommelier & adviser for the SDSU Business of Wine program. He speaks weekly about wine on Rustymikeradio.com & writes for ESRA magazine. Israeliwineguy@gmail.com