750ml To Go

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California Dreamin’, The Mamas & The Papas sang, and they had it right. Everyone I’ve ever known has had their own version of that dream. My actor friends dreamed of LA, the techies of Palo Alto, the surfers of a rugged SoCal coastline, vegetarians of animal-friendly dining, the stoners of living within the law and the children of Disneyland in all its historical glory. As for me, I dreamt of wine. Wine and sunshine. In fact, many years ago, my first visit to the real sunshine state was full of both (Napa Valley).

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I moved to Southern California and discovered that my California Dreamin’ was not limited to Napa – that there was an entire coast full of vineyards producing incredible varietals at my disposal. Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Lodi, Monterey, Sonoma…the coast goes up and the list goes on.

My SO and I have taken many road trips in the last few years, eating incredible food, drinking new wine and joining wine clubs that have surpassed our expectations and instilled a sense of excitement for each new delivery. While moving out west has significantly increased not only my quality of life, but also my quantity of wine consumption, it has (unfortunately) not increased the size of the wine fridge. These wines we’ve grown to love seem to be conspiring against us, the vineyards mailing their shipments at the same time making proper storage pretty difficult.

It was time to brainstorm a solution. So, we did (over a bottle of wine, of course). We shopped wine fridges, took measurements of the kitchen and dining area, discussed rearranging the apartment’s setup and then it hit us… we’d much rather drink them. So, we did. We paired them with crostini starters, brunch dishes, prime steaks, cheese plates, seafood, sandwiches, spicy Japanese noodles, French onion chicken…

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We drank them with every creation our kitchen could produce and just when we thought we’d made a significant dent, we received a new shipment.

From Justin Winery arrived 6 bold bottles of red and the joint decision that the kitchen needed a break and we needed a night out. That’s when the light bulb went off – corkage. In the past, we’d only considered paying corkage on special occasions, but had never followed through on the idea. We got to work researching the corkage fees of our favorite restaurants and discovered something even more surprising – several reputable restaurants in our area were actually waiving it.

It felt like we’d stumbled on a secret – a secret supported by establishments whose food we admired and enjoyed. For the first time ever it felt OKAY to pass on the wine list and break free from the confinement of mark-ups on bottles that often came second to our selections at home.

I know financially conscious readers are probably thinking, “what a great way to save money!” while image conscious readers are thinking, “I could never hand my server a bottle I didn’t purchase at the restaurant.” But, what I’m thinking is “Yes, you can.” Assuming you care about the quality of the wine and are looking to enjoy it, seeking out a restaurant with minimal or waived corkage is totally acceptable.

Things to consider & remember:

  1. Set your pride aside. If the restaurant is allowing it, it’s OKAY.
  2. Being a wine club member is fun. Shipments of wine are delivered to your door with the sole purpose of making you happy. If cooking doesn’t make you happy, take it to the restaurant.
  3. If you are not a wine club member, go into your local wine shop and spend a little more on a better selection. Try that bottle you’ve been eyeing, but were previously too conservative to splurge on.
  4. Bringing wine may save on the dinner bill, but you’re still supporting your winery of choice. You’re allowed to indulge in this perk.
  5. Unless you have a wine cellar, too much hoarded wine just results in long-term confusion and possible clutter. Determine which bottles need to age and drink the rest.
  6. Seeking out low or no corkage options will expand your usual rotation of restaurants. Culinary adventures are always an experience and you may discover a new favorite dish along the way.
  7. Tip properly. Your dinner bill doesn’t reflect the wine, the clean wine glasses and if you had great service, the pours from the server. Tip like it does.

Mostly, step out of your comfort zone and into your dress shoes. Let someone else cook you dinner and spare that special bottle of wine a boring life in your wine fridge. Nothing so potentially wonderful deserves such a mundane fate.

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