Louisville chef, bourbon maker and overall good human Edward Lee took to Instagram yesterday with a pretty crazy photo of a late-1970s wine list from his restaurant 610 Magnolia. Margaux for $15 a bottle? It got me thinking, do these prices stack up with inflation, or was the restaurant markup on premium wine a different story nearly three decades ago? First, I had to send our contributing wine editor Chad Walsh an email for assessment.
“As far as the wine prices, both Lascombes and any Meursault for $15 is crazy,” he wrote. “The list looks very contemporary. To have Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, with a random Frascati thrown in. I'm also impressed by the diversity of American wine.”
I then phoned Lee to find out the story behind the mysterious list. “It just fell out of an old cookbook,” he said, laughing. Lee had been at a friend's house looking though old cookbooks when they came upon one that was a gift from 610’s original owner, Eddie Garber. While paging through the dusty edition, a wine list slipped out — a Beaujolais-stained, typeset time capsule and a snapshop of what the most affluent Louisville residents drank during the Carter Administration, and for how much. Apparently, they drank fine wines relatively affordably. Using the CPI Inflation calculator, the $15 bottle in 1977 would in today's economy cost $59. According to Walsh, a bottle of Meursault would probably be “at least 10 times” the 1977 price at New York City restaurant The Dutch, where he currently serves as Beverage Director. So, a third of today's relative cost.
I asked Lee to speculate why his restaurant was selling such good wine at such low prices. “At that time [the ownership] just wanted people to simply drink wine,” he says, adding that they also sold wine for $1.50 a glass (less than $6 per glass in today’s money). Granted, this was Louisville, the heart of America’s whiskey country. But Lee stresses that the 610 Magnolia clientele at the time were some of the most exclusive and well-traveled people in the entire South. As for any holdovers from the long-forgotten list? “We certainly sell a few bottles of Korbel,” he said.
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