The Best Policy

Restaurants work hard to put you in a good mood, with warm, inviting ambience, courteous service, and an appetizing menu. But at a lot of establishments, a look at the wine list is all it takes to ruin the mood they've gone to such trouble to establish. You know the feeling: There, right in the middle of the price range you've set for yourself, you see a bottle you know retails for a third of what the restaurant is charging for it. And what's that say about the listed prices for wines you don't know? It's enough to put you off your feed, if not spoil your evening entirely. Sometimes, as it happens, you're doing the restaurant an injustice; when you bought the bottle in question, it may have been "posted off" (Liquor Board jargon for "legally offered at a discount for a limited time"). But it's just as likely the restaurant bought its supply at post off, too. Anyway, it's not so much getting ripped off as never knowing if you're getting ripped off or not. In a downturned economy, a lot of restaurants are becoming aware of how that uncertainty keeps some people from looking at the wine list at all. But no one has moved so radically to dispel it as Leonard Ruiz Rede, chef-owner of the Queen Anne Avenue bistro Sapphire. Like Alexander the Great untying the untie-able Gordian knot by whacking it with his sword, Rede has blown customer uncertainty away with a new one-price-fits-all policy: Every wine on his Sapphire list is priced at current retail plus $10. You like the $18.99 price tag on that ros頤e Coteaux? Go ahead, but recognize that you're paying slightly over twice retail for it. But that Fevre first-growth chablis, now; $45.99 is a substantial piece of change, but for a '99 Mont饠de Tonnerre in a restaurant, it's practically a steal. Rede's total candor turns out, in fact, to be smart marketing, as well. Nobody minds getting a little spendy now and then when they feel they're getting what they pay for. Rede's way, the more you spend, the better the deal you get. (You might want to look at the magnum of '96 Gianni Pauletti merlot; just $106.99. . . . ) But if you prefer to do your own shopping, feel free; Rede's "corkage" fee to BYOB is just . . . you guessed it: $10 a bottle, whether you walk in with a fifth of Alice White or an '83 Cheval Blanc. Rede's policy won't earn him any friends in the fiercely competitive restaurant game, but it will certainly earn him points with customers. Enough points, and you may see the competition taking notice in the only way that counts: Imitation, it's said, is the sincerest form of flattery. GET THIS Waterbrook of Walla Walla has a rep for producing classy wine at agreeably d飬ass頰rices, and they've just issued another winner: Their '99 cabernet sauvignon (with a 17 percent admixture of merlot) is all premium Red Mountain fruit and tastes it. Round, smooth, and ready to drink, it's just $15.

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