Grapes of wrath: In restaurants, Pittsburgh’s cup runneth under

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One of the most obvious improvements in Pittsburgh of the last 20 years is a vibrant and diverse restaurant scene. Along with that have come more adventurous wines to thrill a diner’s palate.

Unfortunately, restaurant goers are being overcharged for wine by the glass or the bottle, according to a review Thursday by the Post-Gazette’s Elizabeth Downer with an assist from wine blogger Jack Brice.

They found egregious examples at local restaurants of inflated wine prices well beyond reasonable markups and market norms. Their data came from 20 restaurants on more than 240 wines and showed that Pittsburghers often pay four, five and six times the retail price for a bottle of wine. The price of a glass is no better.

One restaurant paid the state liquor system $8.66 for a bottle of Chardonnay, then offered it to patrons for $48. A particular bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon purchased by a local establishment for $9.62 was priced for diners at $65.

The gouging is even greater by the glass. A restaurant paid $6.73 for a bottle of white wine, which was then offered to customers for $15 a glass. At that rate, as Thursday’s story observed, the business could buy 11 more bottles just by selling five glasses.

It’s enough to drive a wine lover to drink. Just don’t do it in a Pittsburgh restaurant — it’ll cost you.

Restaurateurs would say they are simply charging what the market will bear, or they are trying to balance their financials due to the lower margins on food. Whatever the rationale, they are cheating their customers — the lifeblood of their business — and risking harm to their own commercial interests.

Just when Pittsburgh is coming into its own as a convention city, a hub of culinary sophistication and a destination with good national buzz, restaurants that soak their wine customers threaten to throw it all away. It’s time to pour this practice back in the bottle and put a cork in it.

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