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Restaurant etiquette, cyber juice, wine for virgins

This quarterly column lets you say your piece. Your letters are fantastic, with insight and useful questions. Keep them coming. E-mail

Dodging restaurant rip-offs

Christina in Tampa inquired: I was wondering if you could tell me if there are any BYOW restaurants in the Tampa area.

Wine is a cash cow for restaurants, which often charge 400 percent mark-up for each bottle. But, though they rarely advertise it, many restaurants (in all cities) allow people to bring in their own wine, provided they pay a small service charge called a "corkage fee." Corkage fees vary, with average costs ranging from $10 to $20. The fee helps cover the costs of serving the wine to you, not to mention the loss of profit the restaurant incurs. But there are some rules: 1) Call ahead and see if the restaurant allows BYOW; 2) don't bring in a bottle that's already on its list; 3) don't bring in cheap shit -- that's insulting to the restaurant; 4) tip the server more than you usually would -- this person isn't making money by pouring it for you; and 5) treat the restaurant like they are doing you a favor -- 'cause they are.

Cyber wine

Johnny Barnes from New York City commented: I read your articles a lot, but just saw an old one (issue 1/5/06) on I use the site all the time to check out tastings.

A few other sites that are noteworthy are: If you are really into wine, the site shows you cool articles, reviews and industry issues. Fun reviews from real people. Associates wines to foods, music and events (such as dates, impressing clients). Great source with witty reviews and blogs. The guy knows what's up.

Newbie sweet tooth

Kimberly Hardy from Jacksonville asked: I've never been much of a drinker, but due the haughtiness of those nearest and dearest to me, am attempting to learn how to like wine. ... I know I'm supposed to let it sit in my mouth and breathe in the aromas, I just really don't care for the aftertaste of most of what I've tried (possibly because I'm buying less expensive wines, since I don't want to blow $30-$40 on a bottle to detest it). Sangria, I like. But that's altered. Can you recommend some absolutely sickeningly sweet wines my virgin palate can tolerate?

Don't fret ... there are wines to satiate the sweet tooth. And you don't have to go syrupy sweet to have a pleasant experience, either. Try one of these and see how the aftertaste grabs you:

• Hogue Cellars Late Harvest Riesling ($10)

• Sokol Blosser Evolution #9 ($14)

• Marcarini 2002 Moscato d'Asti (mildly sparkling, $17)

• Schloss Vollrads 2003 Spatlese Riesling Rheingau ($19 and worth it)

• Obsession Vineyards Symphony ($12)

• Banfi 2002 Rosa Regale (dessert sparkling, $18)

Wine travel story

Janet Gonzales from North Carolina wrote: I just returned from staying in Napa but visited several wineries in Sonoma. I stopped by Hop Kiln to see the building based on one of your articles. It's a cool building. One of the more interesting places we went was Bella Winery. They have their tasting [room] in a man-made cave, which is really cool. I also visited Cline, Seghesio and Ridge, but I think Seghesio had the best wine of all of them.

Recommended Wines

· Kendall Jackson 2004 Grand Reserve Chardonnay. SW = 3. $15. Soft, elegant and fruity, with no hard edges on it whatsoever. Fragrant red apple, vanilla and tropical fruit create a fantastic Chardonnay experience. 4 stars

· Hall 2004 Sauvignon Blanc Napa. SW = 1. $18. Overpriced and so acidic I practically couldn't swallow. Loaded with far too much grapefruit rind and tart lemon, the juice doesn't have a chance to impress. 1.5 stars

Sweetness (SW) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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