Wine Time

Corkage: A Privilege, Not a Right

In the wake of last week's post on The Wine Lover's Bill of Rights, I wanted to turn the tables (no pun intended) and address one of the wine lover's responsibilities in the unique social compact that is sealed when you sit down for a meal in a restaurant.

In most states, corkage -- i.e., bringing your own bottle to a restaurant and having your server open it for you for a fee -- is legal.

In Texas, corkage is illegal unless the venue does not have a spirits license. In other words, if spirits are served, corkage is forbidden by law. (I'll devote a future post to this bizarre nugget of Texas legislation.) Many sommeliers allow corkage regardless of this restriction. But, for the most part, our corkage options in Houston are severely limited.

There are, however, a handful of great Houston restaurants where corkage is encouraged.

Here are some guidelines for proper corkage etiquette:

  • Inquire about corkage policy and fee beforehand.
  • Be sure that you're not bringing a bottle that the restaurant already has on its list.
  • Bring something truly special or unique, an old vintage or a rare label (that's the whole point of corkage).
  • Don't use corkage as a loophole to save money (corkage is a privilege, not a right).
  • Order a bottle of comparable value.
  • Offer your server a taste of your wine.
  • Be sure to tip generously, keeping in mind that your bill will be significantly lower than it would have been otherwise.

Here's a link to an excellent article on corkage by Wall Street Journal wine writer Lettie Teague. And here's another by California wine blogger Jack Everitt.

Two of my favorite Houston corkage destinations are Giacomo's Cibo e Vino and The Burger Guys.

Where's your favorite place for corkage in Houston?

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine and modern civilization for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen