Seattle Restaurant Wine Lists in Tough Times

By John ~ January 7th, 2009.

The stock market just completed its worst year since the Great Depression years. Housing prices have taken their biggest dive since records have been kept. Manufacturing activity is the lowest in almost 30 years. And, according to industry figures, restaurants are facing the slowest time since the 9/11 attacks.

20090107_winelistYet you would think times are still rosy if you study the wine lists of major restaurants, at least here in the Seattle area. With rare exception, I see few deals and an industry still in denial. Two to 2.5 times retail price up to 4+ times retail pricing is still prevalent. This means 4 to 8+ times the restaurant’s cost on a bottle of wine. I studied the online wine lists of a representative list of the primo restaurants in the area and here’s what I found, listed in the order of relative attractiveness of its wine list pricing:

  1. Salty’s on Alki – They had the best relative prices on our comparison test, understanding that the “best” is still more than 4 times their cost on average. They have a decent but not great wine list but a good mixture of reasonable value along with some high price wines.
  2. Waterfront Seafood Grill – Not a huge list, but some good wines. A distant second to Salty’s on the price comparison test.
  3. El Gaucho – Fairly small wine list, but again some good wines.
  4. Metropolitan Grill – Good wine list with emphasis on West Coast wines. They also had a list of closeout and hot deal wines, but their regular pricing was fourth in our comparison test.
  5. Canlis – The biggest wine list by far, but also the highest prices. Great restaurant with a great view, but no deals on either food or wine from what I’ve seen.

To find a combination of a decent wine list and reasonable pricing (for a restaurant, at least), here are a couple of good choices in my opinion:

  1. Purple Café & Wine Bar – They offer wine by the flight, by the glass, by the half bottle, bottle, or case. They also have no corkage fee on the first bottle that you bring.
  2. Stumbling Goat Bistro – They have an attractive wine list with both a local and international flavor.

Finally, there are some restaurants, such as Piatti and Lombardi’s, which have half-price specials on bottles on certain nights.

If you know of other Seattle restaurants with good wine list pricing, please let us know. I’ve heard that 94 Stewart Restaurant falls into this category, but I haven’t been there myself.

Filed under: General Wine Information

Reader's Comments

  1. Paul Zitarelli | January 7th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    John –

    Not sure if their regular wine list is reasonably-priced, but the Crepe Cafe and Wine Bar (2118 NE 65th Street) has a big chunk of their wine list at half-price on Tuesday nights.

    Also, their crepes are really delicious (their Mushroom Medley crepe is one of my favorite Seattle entrees).

    – Paul

  2. John | January 7th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up on the Crepe Cafe and Wine Bar. I’ll have to check it out.

  3. HD | January 8th, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Piatti also has four killer gnocchi dishes for the nest few weeks that are pretty easy on the wallet. Try the butternut squash gnocchi with white truffles…

  4. James | April 11th, 2009 at 3:59 pm


    You should check out the program at Campagne and Cafe Campagne — it’s a big list, but with loads of reasonably priced selections. Cyril Frechier, the wine director, has a knack for finding high quality wines at very fair prices.


  5. John | April 11th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks, James, I’ll do that.