How to minimize the mark-up on the wine you buy

Have you ever opened a wine menu to see a $20 bottle of wine you know and love listed for $60? Or you might have decided to splurge on a bottle of champagne only to realize your high-end bottle is high in price only.

While wine mark-ups in bars and restaurants are a well-known fact of life, we’re often left wondering just how much extra we’re paying, and whether there’s a way around it. That’s why ahead of this year’s National Wine Day on May 25, we looked into how much extra drinking out really costs. To do so, we analyzed over 500 bottles of wine across 9 different wine bars in Toronto and compared bar prices to the retail cost as found on online wine marketplace, Vivino.

Wine mark-ups in Canada

The verdict? You can expect to pay almost twice as much for a bottle of wine while out, with the average mark-up coming in at 198% or $64. While that might not seem too steep as a one-off, it can easily add up over time. Per capita wine consumption figures suggest the average Canadian drinks about 20 bottles of wine a year. That means you’d be $1,280 poorer if you only drank wine while out!

Picture not described: cafin-5c-20-5c-_390187451.png Image: Getty

Now, we’re not saying you shouldn’t buy wine out or that venues are ripping you off – they need to cover the cost of expenses like glassware, service and cellaring after all. we just think it pays to be aware so you can decide if you’d like to spend more out or pay the retail cost and drink it at home.

The good news is that on average, the wine you’re drinking at bars has a high user rating. The average Vivino rating of the wines analyzed was 3.86 out of 5; just shy of a 4.0, which is on par with a 90-point expert rating.

Best value wine

If your taste buds are in tune with your hip pocket, you’re best off ordering rosé. On average, a bottle of rosé will cost you $78, having been marked up by 165%. The next best value category was coloured sparkling wine (sparkling reds, rosés and oranges), which were marked up by 168%. Unfortunately, coloured sparkling wine also has the lowest Vivino rating of any wine category at 3.7 – sometimes you really do get what you pay for! Interestingly, while a bottle of bubbles will set you back the most, with an average bar price of $121, it’s in the middle of the pack when it comes to mark-ups, at 191%.

TypeAverage mark-upAverage cost at a barAverage rating out of 5
Rose165%$783.88
Sparkling colour168%$713.71
Sparkling191%$1213.90
White197%$993.84
Red202%$1153.86

Unfortunately, it’s bad news for value-conscious red drinkers. The average mark-up for a bottle of red was the worst of any category at 202% and the average menu price was $115. White wine wasn’t far behind, with an average mark-up of 197% and a price of $99. Given there weren’t enough orange or skin contact wines in our sample size, they weren’t included in this comparison.

Wine mark-ups by price point

Never spend over $50 on a bottle of wine? You’ve likely been paying more of a mark-up than if you’d purchased something for $100. The average retail price for a $30-$50 bottle of wine at a bar is less than $20 and our analysis found the average mark-up is 202%. Compare this to the retail price of a $91-$110 bottle, which retails for an average of $43 and has an average mark-up of 164%.

Price bracketAverage mark-upAverage cost at a barAverage rating out of 5
$91-$110164%$1003.88
$51-$70189%$643.72
$111-$150190%$1283.96
$71-$90195%$803.8
$30-$50202%$463.63

Wine mark-ups by country of origin

If you order a bottle of South African wine at the bar, you can expect to pay more than three times the retail value. Our analysis showed it is the worst value wine to order out of all 12 countries surveyed. If you’re a value-for-money drinker, then you will probably want to stay away from German (292%), Portuguese (254%), Spanish (228%) and French wine (196%) as well.

So what wine country should you look for on the wine menu? Australian wine had the lowest mark-up on average, at just 79%. Close behind were Greece and Argentina, both of which had an average mark-up of 84%. There was a bit of a jump to the fourth best value wine country, which was the USA. To drink American wine while out, you’ll pay an average mark-up of 149%, but you also have the best chance of enjoying it, as the USA is the only country that had an average Vivino rating above 4. At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it as the average American bottle of wine costs the most overall, at $126. Canadian wine had an average mark-up of 165%, Italian wine 180% and Austrian wine 184%.

CountryAverage mark-upAverage cost at a barAverage rating out of 5
Australia79%$1103.91
Greece84%$723.73
Argentina84%$953.88
USA149%$1264.01
Canada165%$893.90
Italy180%$1043.87
Austria184%$1083.85
France196%$1223.84
Spain228%$993.77
Portugal254%$1073.88
Germany292%$953.82
South Africa301%$1033.93

Cost friendliest vintage

The older the wine, the more expensive it is and the bigger the mark-up, right? Wrong! If you want to minimize the mark-up, then you should stay away from 2011 vintages, which had an average mark-up of 253%. The other vintages that had big mark-ups were 2013 (232%), 2016 (208%) and 2015 (202%). On the other end of the spectrum, 2009 had the smallest average mark-up, at 122%. The next best value vintage was 2012 (167%), non-vintage (178%) and 2008 (178%).

VintageAverage mark-up %Average cost at a barAverage rating
NV178%$1043.81
2017189%$823.84
2016208%$1003.81
2015202%$993.81
2014192%$1203.85
2013232%$1013.81
2012167%$1243.95
2011253%$1484.01
2010196%$1494.07
2009122%$1614.18
2008178%$1614.12

Mark-ups by grape type

There wasn’t a large enough sample size to analyze all grape varieties, but we were able to compare 13 common types. The grape variety with the smallest mark-up was Cabernet Sauvignon, at just 94%. Cabernet Sauvignon on the menus also had an average Vivino rating of 4 – maybe that’s why red is the most popular wine across Canada? Sangiovese was the next best value grape (126%) and white drinkers can breathe a sigh of relief as Chenin Blanc came in third (149%), just ahead of Nero d’Avola (150%).

While Verdejo is known as a light-bodied white, it comes with a heavy mark-up. On average, a bottle of wine made from this Spanish grape will cost three and a half times its retail price at the bar! Ouch! Gamay had the next largest mark-up, at 255%, followed by Alvarinho and Cabernet Franc, which both had average mark-ups above 190%.

Grape typeAverage $ mark-upAverage mark-up %Average ratingAverage restaurant priceAverage Vivino price
Verdejo$63350.40%3.85$84$21.11
Gamay$69255.12%3.85$108$38.67
Alvarinho (Vino Verde)$59194.47%4.05$90$30.80
Cabernet Franc$73191.12%3.87$111$37.76
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio$69182.95%3.83$105$35.66
Nebbiolo$65179.93%3.93$131$66.18
Chardonnay$87179.46%3.94$14254.27
Pinot Noir$74176.51%4.01$161$87.46
Shiraz/Syrah$59158.21%3.85$106$47.19
Nero d’Avola$45149.54%3.73$82$37.20
Chenin Blanc$57149.36%3.90$107$49.85
Sangiovese$43125.78%3.87$10663.2
Cabernet Sauvignon$3594.38%4.00$105$69.44

What about blends? They tend to have a slightly bigger mark-up than non-blends, with an average mark-up of 215%, compared to 190%.

Where to buy wine online

All this wine talk made you thirsty? If you don’t want to pay the mark-up, you can purchase wine online from these 10 stores.

Methodology

We analyzed over 500 wines across nine popular Toronto wine bars listed by online news sites like BlogTO, Narcity and Toronto Life. We then compared the menu prices to those listed on online marketplace Vivino to calculate the mark-up. Vivino data is based on user-contributed data so prices can vary. Wines that were not found in Vivino were excluded from the research.
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