Tips for picking the best wine, spirit for your budget
November 19, 2016
Whether you plan to spend the holidays at home or at a restaurant, finding the right beverage to pair with your meal — and budget — can often be an intimidating process.
It might seem as though prices attached to things such as wine and liquor are a bit arbitrary, especially for similar products, but the listed price is often reflective of everything from business costs to guest experience, and local liquor stores, restaurants and bar staff recommend asking questions to find the perfect pairing — and to get the most out of your dollar.
At the restaurant
When looking at price points that are listed alongside wines for purchase in a restaurant setting — either by the glass or by the bottle — the listed cost varies for different reasons.
Oftentimes, the price listed for a glass of wine reflects business operating costs such as recouping lost inventory due to open bottles not being sold quickly enough — an expensive byproduct of offering wines by the glass. Bottle and by-the-glass prices can fluctuate for more general reasons, such as the difficulty an establishment had obtaining a certain vintage or varietal from a particular producer or the price it paid for the product from the distributor.
The intangibles that go into creating a guest's experience and ensuring that person orders something that he or she will enjoy also play a part in the price listed for wines by the bottle or by the glass. The time, energy and level of professionalism that restaurant and bar staff give to each guest is reflected into the dollar amount that goes alongside a glass, bottle or pour.
"You're also paying for ambiance," said Ian Tulk, the manager of the 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Co. tasting room in Vail Village. "You're paying for the table service, and you're paying for the education on that product and the quality, and all that ties together to create an experience."
Tulk explained that many of the same fluctuations in price that consumers find attached to wine in a restaurant or bar setting carry over to liquor, as well. A restaurant or bar's whiskey list might have 20 different options, and oftentimes consumers run into the same conundrum of what to order that's "worth" the listed amount.
Price bumps for local products, especially in the form of craft liquor and spirits, are common, as frequently smaller, local producers aren't drawing the profits of big, industrial scale distilleries, and local products can create a distinct guest experience of their own.
"I think good liquor, especially craft spirits, have a sense or terroir, much like wine," Tulk said, "and drinking more unique liquors to an area definitely elevates the experience and creates a cool and unique opportunity to try something that someone has put their blood, sweat and tears into — the local distiller that's been working the past few years just to produce a few bottles. That definitely adds an element to the experience, as well."
The purchasing experience
Deciding on the right craft spirit or bottle of wine for the holiday table can be a complicated process outside the table-service setting of a restaurant or bar. While customers might have go-tos when it comes to spirits, buying wine, in particular, is confusing when shelves of product that all look roughly the same for a range of different prices enter the equation, and it can sometimes be hard to tell whether the $40 bottle is worth the $30 more than the one on the bottom shelf.
Liquor stores cite reasons similar to those of bars and restaurants for selling different bottles for different prices — producer, vintage, scarcity and a host of other factors can make one bottle of wine more expensive than another.
Much of the in-store sticker price found on a bottle is a direct reflection of what the business paid to stock its shelves with a certain product — a business cost for restaurant and bars, too — as opposed to arbitrary price points attached to different bottles. And while this can be daunting for typical consumers when faced with aisles of similar products, liquor stores encourage their customers to ask questions about different wines in order leave happy and to understand the product and the cost associated with it.
"There's so many reasons why wines are priced the way they are, not why we price wine the way we do, from the producer to the distributors to the varietal to the winemaker's reputation," said Bryant Roth, wine buyer and a manager at West Vail Liquors.
"Guests should feel comfortable approaching one of our associates and asking questions about what they're looking for — a lot of stores have a sommelier working and the staff is knowledgeable, and an associate can help find the right product in the right price range."
Roth said West Vail liquors promotes an educational environment with the staff as a means of creating a better guest experience and helping customers walk out feeling like they learned something about a product.
"At our liquor store, we have weekly staff tastings and monthly tastings for the public," he said. "Ongoing education about the products is an important way for us to be knowledgeable for our guests."
Especially around the holidays, which often have staple foods, the staffs at local liquor stores typically have suggestions on hand to pair with different courses and some easy-drinking recommendations to hit different price points. Restaurant staff similarly encourages an open dialogue about what customers are hoping to sip alongside their meals, and a restaurant setting often is an easier forum to try a taste of something before you settle on a bottle for the table.
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