Merlot To Go
Little-known law allows those who dine to take home unfinished fruit of the vine
By Jessica Cassyle Carr
Oenophiles know the hesitation often born of deciding whether to order an entire bottle of wine at a restaurant. A whole bottle is both an investment and a commitment to five glasses—and a big buzz. But ordering a bottle is no longer such a monumental decision.
Last year's regular Legislative Session saw the easy passage of House Bill 124, or "Allow Removal of Partially Consumed Wine." On July 1, the legislation quietly went into effect, allowing restaurants to send patrons home with their unfinished wine. Sometimes called "cork and carry," as long as bottles are recorked and sealed in a tamper-proof plastic bag along with a receipt, they may be transported in an automobile. With this legislation, New Mexico joins about half of the U.S. in requiring this specified repackaging of wine.
"It makes an exception to the open-container provision on the argument that people returning home from a restaurant aren't nipping at their Bordeaux as they drive down the highway," says Bob Hagan, spokesperson for the state's Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees Alcohol and Gaming. "They just want to get a half bottle of wine home."
A little more than six months under the recorking law, Hagan reports there have been no problems associated with it. On the contrary, so far it seems like a win-win situation. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which takes no position on recorking due to inconclusive research, says it's a good thing that the state addressed the issue. Terry Huertaz, state director of MADD, says the organization wants to make sure there is a high recorking standard that all restaurants follow. "The most important thing is we don't undermine open-container laws. That's probably the biggest concern, and one that the [restaurant] industry would have as well."
Rep. Jim R. Trujillo, who carried the bill, says he considers HB 124 an anti-DWI measure. Diners no longer have to decide between abandoning an expensive bottle of wine or guzzling it down. "From what I've been hearing, a lot of our members have been making use of it," says Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association. Wight also says anecdotal evidence tells of restaurants selling more wine—a positive for both restaurants as well as the state's nascent wine industry. "The citizens are happy about it because they don't have to finish the entire bottle of wine, and I think everybody feels a lot safer."
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