Dear Philly Restaurants: Wine Shouldn’t Be This Expensive

Philly's fledgling wine culture won't flourish without more affordable bottles.

Photo | iStock

Wine lists are starting at around $50 a bottle these days. Have you noticed?

I’m talking today. When wine is more available to us than it’s ever been (due to some recent amendments in PA’s liquor laws), when people are actually starting to care about it again, we’ve, for whatever reason, gone and jacked up the prices. Some by-the-glass sections on restaurant menus around town don’t dip lower than $12 and average out at $15 per glassPrices like that can do a real number on Philly’s wine culture — and really, its drinking culture in general.

Now, listen, I get it. I get that we (as in Philly, as in Pennsylvania) still have some of the worst liquor laws in the entire country — and it’s because of them that our city’s general apathy toward wine exists to begin with.

I mean, the PLCB has us shackled. A license to serve wine in your restaurant could cost upwards of $200,000 (hence all the BYOBs); wine is double-taxed; bar owners and operators have to choose between buying their wine from distributors with no wholesale discount or directly from the PLCB for a paltry 10 percent wholesale discount (which the aforementioned double-tax all but negates). If you do buy from the PLCB, you have to literally pick up your order yourself. Like, go to the nearest Wine and Spirits store and take a restaurant’s load of wine off the premises in a car or Uber.

It’s because of all this nonsense that Philly’s wine culture is in such disrepair. Because to do wine-business in Philly, you have to pass the ridiculous, PA-specific costs of doing wine-business onto your customers, making buying wine in restaurants and bars an expensive affair. Obviously, expensive translates to special occasion (which wine is not) — and so wine in Philly continues to live in its pigeonhole. 

But the least we can do is find one good bottle for under $40, right? A nice glass for under $10? I’m not talking about mark-ups here. I’m talking about the simple decision to put affordable options on your menu, co-mingling with your cooler, rarer ones. To, quite literally, add a quality bottle to your list that you, the business owner, feel comfortable popping open for $35. Because if you’re trying to spearhead wine culture in Philly, if you’re trying to shift the public perception, what good are you doing pricing anybody out? Follow Tim Kweeder’s lead and offer really nice draft wine for $8 a glass. Get creative about it like Chloé Grigri does at the Good King Tavern with her good-better-best house wine program — something she says affords her the luxury of sourcing a more ambitious wine list. 

I get it. I get it. It hailed in Burgundy this year, and French wine just costs more in 2018. But is there not one other wine in the entire PLCB library you could add to your list to make it just a little more doable?

Because here’s the thing: Wine is having a moment. We have things like Wine Week, and a new-found interest in the natural stuff. There’s a general uptick in interest here in Philly and beyond. Hell, the coolest people on the planet are super into it.

And to keep this momentum, we need to keep people drinking it — casually. And not just the elite among us, not just those who consider it a hobby. Everyone.