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by Jerry D. Mead

We'll be back to lots of wine reviews next week for sure, but the end of one year and the beginning of another always makes me reflective. Here, in a few paragraphs, are a couple of things on my mind:


There are many enemies of wine and beverages containing ethanol in general, but none more dangerous than the MADD mothers. It's a classic case of a good idea taken in directions the founder never intended, and a legitimate quest turned to illegitimate purpose.

The organization that set out to get drunks off the road has gone far beyond being anti-drunk to become anti-alcohol, pure and simple. Imagine any social or political effort that will do harm to wine, beer and spirits, to the producers to create and market, to the consumer to enjoy a free market, and MADD will have endorsed it, if it didn't actually create it.

Drunk driving and traffic fatalities (with adjustments taken into consideration for increased population and miles traveled) are at an all-time low...and would be even lower if MADD and its minions didn't keep raising the bar (or lowering it, if you're into limbo). By sponsoring and successfully passing laws lowering the permissible level of blood alcohol before a driver is considered intoxicated, the anti-alcohol forces have created a whole new class of drunks. And they still aren't happy. MADD's national leaders have gone on record as favoring "zero tolerance," which has already become law for adults 18-20 in most states. A sip of beer, a quaff of wine, and those young adults become legal drunks even if not impaired, and that's what MADD has in mind for us all eventually.

In virtually every state where the BAC has been lowered from the majority national standard of .10 to the MADD advocated .08, the anti-alcohol fanatics are already at work proposing even lower .07, to .04, a little lowering at a time to prevent a public outcry, while on their way to their publicly stated goal of "zero tolerance."

And if that isn't enough, there will be strong pressure at the federal level again this year to use tax dollar blackmail to force the states to adopt across the board lower BACs.


And drunk driving isn't the bad guys' only propaganda theme. Interstate shipping of wine is being accused of encouraging sales to minors, even though there is not a single example in the more than 20 years I've been following this issue of a minor buying licensed beverages illegally via the mails...unless assisted by an adult for the purpose of a sting.

The media pick up these wild claims without doing any homework and never noting that intrastate shipments have existed for more than half a century with no problems involving minors. If shipping from San Francisco to Los Angeles is not a problem as to minors, then why should a shipment from Reno to Sacramento, or Las Vegas to Phoenix, Connecticut to New York, be such a threat?


Someone called recently wanting to know what I thought about a restaurant charging $15 for corkage. I said I didn't have enough information to offer an opinion.

Some consumers seem to consider corkage a right as opposed to a privilege, and that always creates problems. Good form demands that you always call a restaurant ahead to arrange to bring your own wine, with corkage fee negotiated before you get there. That way there's no surprises for anyone.

The chap who was inquiring acknowledged that the restaurant in question was indeed a very fine one with good crystal and an extensive wine selection. The fellow had paid $10 at this establishment previously and was complaining about the increase, and quickly adding that other establishments in the area only charged $10.

"What's the problem", I wanted to know. Why not patronize the folks with the corkage fee with which he was comfortable? It seems the restaurant charging the $15 fee was better and that's where he wanted to go. Once again the solution seemed what the restaurateur asks or buy wine from his list. "But I couldn't afford to drink nearly as well if I paid the restaurant mark-up!," he exclaimed. Another no-brainer, it seemed to me.

The proprietor of arguably the most elegant restaurant in which I ever dined did not permit corkage (well, sometimes for a few special customers). When customers inquired about corkage his reply was always the same: "You want to bring your own food too? What do you think this is an (expletive) picnic?"

Restaurants charge corkage for some legitimate reasons. It may not seem like much, but there are costs involved in washing, drying and handling stemware. And who's to pay if there is breakage? The better the glassware the greater the need for a corkage fee to cover expenses.

Restaurants are in the business of selling wine and by bringing your own the restaurant is losing a sale and chances are you won't tip the waiter as well for opening your wine as you would on the price of the bottle. Many restaurateurs base their corkage fee on the approximate profit that would have been made in selling the least expensive wine on the list. At a fancy, white tablecloth restaurant with good stemware, $15 is not out of line.

The other side of corkage is that restaurants which do not permit it at all are very short-sighted, especially if their wine list has very high mark-ups. When faced with outrageous wine prices, I often settle for a single glass, or maybe a beer, and if corkage is not permitted I may not go back as often as I otherwise would.

Presumably, the restaurant is making a profit on its food and on the non-drinkers who dine there. By overpricing wine and not permitting corkage, a lot of food business is being lost.

A small bit of advice. Even when a corkage fee has been quoted, the consumer will often find the fee never makes it to the bill if certain things occur. If you offer a taste of your special bottling to the maitre d' or owner, buy cocktails, an aperitif or dessert wine, and generally show that you appreciate the privilege of bringing your own wine (and that your not a cheapskate), it's amazing how frequently that corkage fee will be waived.

(no Best Buy or other extra info. this week)

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