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All About Corkage
You can bring your own wine to lunch or dinner, when dining in most restaurants in California, something which many people don't realize. The restaurant will charge you a "corkage fee" ranging from $5 to $25 per bottle (or more at very high end places).

Some restaurants discourage you from bringing your own wine by charging a high corkage fee. Some restaurants waive a corkage fee if a bottle is also purchased from the restaurant's wine list. (For instance you order a white wine from the restaurant list and bring a red with you.) Occasionally you will find a restaurant with no corkage fee at all – or sometimes restaurants offer a no-corkage night. In general, $10-$20 is a normal corkage fee, per bottle.

Corkage fees cover wine service, wine glass breakage/rental and some of the lost revenue not selling a wine off the restaurant's list. For example, if a bottle of wine wholesales for $15 and the restaurant charges $35, there is usually a $15 corkage fee.

Before you bring a wine to restaurant make sure that they offer a corkage fee. Be prepared to order off the restaurant's list if you don't ask first and they don’t offer corkage.
  • Never bring a wine already on the restaurant's wine list (and in general they won’t let you open it if you do). Many restaurants offer a copy of their wine list online
  • Don’t bring a cheap/grocery store wine. The idea is to bringing a special wine.
  • Tip as if you purchased the wine at the restaurant (so you have to make a guess, but!), adjusting for corkage cost.
  • My own, fourth rule would be: Do not bring wine to a restaurant with a very good wine list unless it's a very special wine. It’s important to reward the restaurants that make the effort to have a strong wine list, especially those which price them fairly.

Generally then you only bring a very special or unusual bottle which is not likely to be on the list. (But sometimes you’ll guess wrong.) You can also bring a back-up bottle. Just don’t walk in with a case of assorted wine.

It happens. If the error is discovered after the bottle you brought is opened then simply apologize to the sommelier. But don’t *ever* bring a bottle that you *know* is on the list.
If the bottle is not yet opened order it or another bottle from the list instead of opening the one you brought.

It is a good idea to place the bottle on the table so that when the waiter arrives he or she is immediately aware that wine has been brought. After the bottle brought is presented, usually the waiter will inquire if the wine should be opened right away, if an ice bucket is needed or if the wine needs to be decanted. If the service required is not offered, be prepared to ask, just as you would if you were ordering the wine off the list at the restaurant. You should receive good stemware and the same services that you would as if you had ordered the bottle from the restaurant’s wine list.

If you are not sure about what you are going to be ordering in the restaurant… it’s fine to bring 2 bottles to choose from after perusing the menu you can choose one.
A white wine with some acids (i.e., low oak or unoaked). This is the category of wine that’s weakest on wine lists in Northern California because local wines don’t excel in this category (due to the very warm climate).
While there are no definitive parameters, a special wine could be an older wine not easily available, a bottle purchased under special circumstances or received as a gift, or an unusual wine.

If your group is large and multiple bottles will be brought to the restaurant, it’s best to call beforehand. Enquire as to whether the restaurant is amenable to a large group with many bottles and if they would consider a reduced corkage fee. You should have all of the issues of glasses per person, and number of bottles and total corkage fees, resolved before entering the restaurant. Often with large groups – as in an off-line for example, guests will supply their own glassware as well as bring wine – which may help in getting the corkage reduced. Be prepared that some restaurants will not reduce the corkage or will not be able to supply sufficient glassware for a large group.

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