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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Wine: Will Maryland wine drinkers get a break?

By Dave McIntyre

Robert Parker's experience at Volt in Frederick got the restaurant in trouble with county liquor officials. (www.rodneybailey.com)

Next year is the year, advocates have promised, that Maryland residents will be given permission to order wine from wineries and have it shipped directly to their homes. This is legislation that has been long stymied in the state Assembly by wholesalers determined to defend their vice grip on the market against the encroachments of wine collectors eager to buy a case or two of rare, small-production boutique wines that are unavailable through the traditional retail system.

But now attention is also focusing on Maryland’s ban on corkage.

Corkage is the fee a restaurant charges you for opening and serving a bottle of wine you bring yourself, from your collection. While the District allows this practice and permits restaurants to charge up to $25 per bottle, Maryland (and Virginia) prohibit it. Restaurants can be fined, or have their liquor licenses revoked, for allowing customers to bring their own wines to dinner. (The legislature amended the law a few years ago to allow consumers to take home an unfinished bottle of wine they purchase at a restaurant; however, it is still not permitted to bring a bottle from your collection at home to a restaurant.)

This week, the Baltimore Sun weighed in against the corkage ban in a hard-hitting editorial that called the corkage ban “nonsensical” and “yet another example of the convoluted, antiquated, and anti-consumer nature of Maryland’s liquor laws.” The Sun cited the example of Robert Parker, the world’s pre-eminent wine critic and a Maryland resident, who wrote in his Wine Advocate newsletter about a dinner he enjoyed at Volt, Bryan Voltaggio’s hard-to-get-into restaurant in Frederick. After Parker described the wines he enjoyed with Voltaggio’s cuisine, the Frederick County Liquor Board warned Voltaggio that he could lose his license for allowing Parker to bring his own bottles.

Montgomery County restaurateurs are also concerned about business they are losing to competitors inside the District line. Del. Brian Feldman (Rockville) is planning county-specific legislation that will allow corkage in Montgomery County, according to Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, the organization that has led the direct shipping fight.

John Hesse, the organization’s executive director, says the legislature should lift the ban statewide. “When one of Maryland's most famous chefs ... and the nation's most famous wine connoisseur get together and the resulting meal is somehow regarded as a violation of the law, then there's a problem with the aw,” Hesse wrote in an e-mail. “Preventing people from bringing wine to a restaurant — and that restaurant from charging corkage for that service — can't be good for restaurants in the midst of a recession. Nor would wholesalers be headed to bankruptcy if corkage is allowed,” he wrote.

Will we get corkage? Will we get direct shipping? Maryland wine drinkers have been disappointed so many times before that we won’t be popping any corks anytime soon.

Follow McIntyre on Twitter. He blogs at McIntyre's WineLine.

By Dave McIntyre  | December 9, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags:  Bryan Voltaggio, Dave McIntyre, wine  
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Comments

There are no rational arguments against corkage. A restaurant should be free to offer it or not and to charge whatever they want to do it.

Same for direct shipments of wine. If the state think their ban stops people from shipping wine from a winery and then getting into Maryland they are delusional.

Posted by: rwdavis2 | December 9, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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