The Corkage Question, Uncorked

There’s no shame in bringing your own wine to the table. Some restaurants even want you to.

Illustration Victoria Wiercinski

Bringing a bottle of wine to your favourite restaurant is different than being cheap. A man who takes you out for dinner and orders one entree to share because “it’s romantic” is cheap. That same man taking a 2007 Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir to your table for two is not.

There are 115 licensed establishments in Edmonton that allow patrons to Bring Your Own Wine (BYOW), ranging from white-tablecloth restaurants to casual eateries. Most have corkage fees, the amount restaurants charge to pull the cork, that range between $15 and $30 per bottle.

BYOW is nothing new (it was legalized in Alberta back in 2003) and, in larger cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, it’s common practice. What’s new, though, is that Edmonton restaurants are finally catching up and promoting it. Some are even reducing corkage fees.

The Blue Pear, located on the western edge of downtown, is one of those restaurants that has done away with corkage fees, at least for one day a week. Just over a year ago, Blue Pear owner Jessie Radies waived the restaurant’s $29 BYOW price on Wednesdays to entice customers to dine mid-week. Within months, Wednesday nights went from being the slowest day of the week to the night wait staff are run off their feet.

About a year ago, Normand’s increased its corkage fees a few dollars to $17.50 from $15. It might sound expensive, but in comparison to what other Edmonton restaurants charge, it’s mid-range. If a server at New Asian Village in Mill Woods pulls your cork, it will you cost you $10. It’s $15 at Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria and $50 at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

To the uninitiated, brown-bagging may seem like a way for patrons to save a few dollars, especially in a market where a glass of decent wine costs at least $10. But that’s hardly the case. BYOWers tend to be oenophiles who appreciate good wine; they’re not bringing cheap plonk with them. They prefer $40 bottles picked for the occasions. And besides, once a restaurant tacks on its corkage fee, the savings are all but gone. “For them, it’s not about the money. They have a special bottle that they like and they want to drink it with good food,” says Radies.

Barry Boroditsky is a die-hard BYOWer who dines out several times a month. One of his favourite places to eat is Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria, known for its award-winning “wet” pizzas. But, according to Boroditsky, the chain’s wine list, which mostly consists of Italian bottles, is not to his liking. To solve that problem, Boroditsky often brings his own bottle to the pizzeria. “I’m spoiled by corkage. Bringing my own bottle takes the guess-work and pressure out of having to choose a good bottle of wine,” he says.

Normands’ owner, Normand Campbell, doesn’t believe the $17.50 corkage fee has dissuaded people from walking through the doors. He believes it’s had the opposite effect. “I’m glad that customers are coming here. If it’s the tipping point between eating at my place or elsewhere, then it’s working.”

Where To Find Out

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission maintains a list of BYOW restaurants for the entire province at Call restaurants directly for pricing, but you won’t always get a sure answer.

What To Bring

Patrons can only bring commercially manufactured wine, and it’s a no-no to bring an opened bottle – it must be fully corked and sealed. That bottle of hooch Uncle Sal made last summer isn’t allowed, nor is beer.

When To Inform

Most restaurants don’t have a problem with diners showing up with their unannounced bottles, but it’s common courtesy to give a heads-up when making the reservation.

How To Take It Home

Restaurants that are licensed for BYOW allow patrons to take home any wine that they do not drink, whether they BYOW or order bottles from the restaurants. The staff must re-cork the bottle and bag it.

Corkage Across the Capital

The Blue Pear Free on Wednesdays; $29 on all other days 10643 123 St. 780-482-7178

The Copper Pot Restaurant $25 101-9707 110 St. 780-452-7800

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria $15 All locations

Gabbana $15 11223 Jasper Ave. 780-488-0955

Homefire Grill $20 18210 100 Ave. 780-489-8086

Louisiana Purchase $15 10320 111 St. 780-420-6779

The Marc Restaurant $25 (buy a wine bottle from the restaurant and any corkage fees are waived) 100-9940 106 St. 780-429-2828

New Asian Village (Mill Woods location) $10 9308 34 Ave. 780-463-9997

Normand’s $17.50 11639 Jasper Ave. 780-482-2600

Packrat Louie $25 10335 83 Ave. 780-433-0123

Piccolino $20 9112 142 St. 780-443-2110

Ruth’s Chris Steak House $50 100-9990 Jasper Ave. 780-990-0123

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