It can be intimidating to order wine at a nice restaurant.
Crémant d’Alsace. Tintilla. Côte-Rôtie.
If you’re like me, these names mean nothing. They look fancy, and that’s about all I know. If I’m at a restaurant, my eyes are likely to gloss over these names and be drawn instead to the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Malbec, or the Pinot Noir.
I’m certainly not alone.
It turns out restaurants know that people are more likely to order the familiar wines and take advantage of our insecurities, according to Bianca Bosker, author of the best-selling book “Cork Dork.”
Bosker left a job as a journalist a few years ago to join an elite class of wine experts known as sommeliers. She chronicles her epic and often tormenting quest in her book, which is full of tidbits about how the mysterious world of wine works. (Full disclosure: I worked with Bosker when I was an editor at The Huffington Post.)
According to Bosker, who worked as a “cellar rat” at New York’s L’Apicio restaurant, you’ll pay a so-called “gimme tax” when ordering wines that look more approachable.
“Savvy beverage directors levied a ‘gimme tax’ on glasses of brand-name grapes like Chardonnay and Malbec,” she writes. “They could charge more because most drinkers see a familiar grape, go on autopilot, and think, Give it to me; I don’t care what it costs.”
“‘Cabernet’ was somm-speak for ‘easy money,'” she continues, referring to the “golden rule” of sommeliers: “You can’t make margin on s— people don’t know.”
This blew my mind. Not only do I overpay for the most familiar wines, I also probably overlook good deals on wines no one has ever heard of, according to Bosker.
She offers some advice on how to avoid paying this premium.
“When I went out to eat, I started steering clear of the classic crowd pleasers,” she writes. “For a shot at drinking great wine for good value, I stuck to whatever looked unfamiliar and vaguely intimidating — say, a Mondeuse Noire from the Savoie in France.”
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