I got some fellow Hounds a bit worked up recently by saying that I think The Butcher Shop’s wines by the glass are overpriced. It was just my gut feel, but several Butcher Shop fans vigorously disagreed. Nobody had any real data, so I thought maybe I could do some research to try to bring some facts to a discussion that so far had been just competing impressions.
So I did some sampling of by-the-glass prices from three lists that were put together by respected local wine professionals: Coda (Deborah de Haro), Troquet (Chris Campbell), and The Butcher Shop (Cat Silirie). Coda has fairly wine-ignorant servers pouring very modest wines in not very nice stemware, likely not at proper cellar temperatures – quite unlike the other two places -- but it’s a thoughtful, budget-minded list I admire. Troquet and The Butcher Shop have many admirers among local Hounds and clearly position themselves as havens for wine lovers.
I multiplied by-the-glass prices into full bottle prices (5 times 5oz pours at Coda and The Butcher Shop, 6 times 4oz pours at Troquet), and compared them to a typical consumer retail price gleaned from Google searches of US wine retailers. I was surprised by the results:
Coda: consistently a 280 to 320% markup (example: 2004 Santi Valpoicella Ripasso, poured here for $8/glass, which works out to $40/bottle, vs. a typical $14/bottle retail price. $40 divided by $14 = 290% markup). This strikes me as a pretty typical bottle markup for many restaurants, though is perhaps low for an individual glass.
Troquet: a shockingly low 140 to 160% markup (example: 2001 Rafanelli Zinfandel $11.50/4 oz glass, which works out to $69/bottle vs. a typical $50/bottle retail price. $69 divided by $50 = 140% markup).
The Butcher Shop: much more variable, with markups ranging from 260 to 550%, but most falling in the 450 to 500% range. Example: the 2005 Costaripa Marzemino, poured here for $14/glass, which works out to $70/bottle, vs. a typical $14/bottle retail price. $70 divided by $14 = 500% markup.
(I can only imagine what this analysis would yield at truly egregious gouger like Fleming’s.)
Caveats: This is only a snapshot looking at five or six by-the-glass wines from current lists. There are outliers on either side, an occasional great bargain or even higher markup. Using retail prices to calculate “markup” is probably sub-optimal, though it’s the only baseline I can think of with readily available, verifiable data. I might be incorrectly estimating the pour size at Coda and The Butcher Shop (Troquet’s pours are very precise). You could probably find retail prices that are both higher and lower than the ones I used, though I tried to pick a median one. Perhaps I'm failing to factor in important costs (real estate, storage, shipping, stemware, etc.) My math skills aren't what they used to be. Maybe the whole analysis overly simplistic and half-assed in some way that hasn't occurred to me.
But I did try to come up with a representative sample, and not cherry-pick for results that supported my hypothesis. My methodology is admittedly rickety, but it’s the best I can come up without the benefit of insider information. I’d welcome any refinements or alternative analyses anyone would like to propose. But at first blush, I’d say my gut feel about The Butcher Shop was reasonable. (I can provide more raw numbers if folks want to see them.)
There’s a separate debate worth having about whether the wine markups at any given Boston restaurant are justified by its intangibles: atmosphere, unique/unusual selections, staff knowledge, accompanying food, etc. I understand how someone who loves The Butcher Shop could look at these numbers and say, "To me, their wines by the glass are still a good value", the operative word "value" being subjective. But I thought that looking at such hard numbers as I could find might provide a useful basis for further discussion.