We always bring our own wine to restaurants. OK, almost always. The exceptions being times when we aren't drinking wine, are making an unplanned stop, or are traveling to a state whose draconian liquor laws forbid it. (Here's a great article from Wine Spectator that gives a state-by-state overview.)
Why bring our own wine? I'll give you three great reasons:
1. It's cheaper
Restaurants typically mark-up their wine 2 - 3 times the retail price. This means it's almost always cheaper to bring in your own bottle, even after the typical $15 - $20 corkage fee. For example, one of our go to Chardonnays is Sonoma Cutrer Sonoma Coast. It typically goes for $45 at a restaurant, but as a BevMo club member, I can pick up a bottle for $21.54 including sales tax. Add in a $15 corkage fee and my total at the restaurant is $36.54.
2. You know it
Staring at a restaurant wine list can feel a lot like trying to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle. Sure, you might recognize a few things, but most of the clues don't make any sense. Why take chances on an expensive wine you've never heard of when you can bring a bottle that you know you'll love?
3. You can't get it there
Sally and I buy a lot of wines that aren't widely distributed and some are sold exclusively through the winery. That means many of the wines we enjoy can't be found on a restaurant wine list, so the only way to open a bottle when dining out is to bring a bottle with us.
If you aren't sure if bringing your own wine is legal in your state, or if your favorite restaurant will allow it, the best way to find out is to call. Ask the person for their corkage policy and they'll gladly tell you the rules and the cost. Or, you can always do what we do and just show up with a nice bottle, offer to share a little, and hope for the best!