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Most restaurant wine lists are designed with one goal in mind: to separate you from your money. “A lot of restaurants see the wine program as a profit center,” says Gabriel’s wine guy, Robert Bansberg, who says a triple-wholesale markup is standard in white-tablecloth spots. But with so many restaurants posting their lists online, and so many wine reviews scattered across the Web, a little Googling is all it takes to avoid getting gouged. Seek out these five bottles, all of which come in far below the standard markup—before the restaurants offering them wise up. Pax’s ripe, fruit-driven syrahs don’t come cheap, but at Bank Lane Bistro (670 N. Bank Ln., Lake Forest; 847-234-8802), the 2005 Sonoma County Cuvée Christine is only $62. A leading Bandol producer, Château Pradeaux crafts tannic, earthy, not-for-everyone Mourvèdres. But time has tamed the 1994 Cuvée La Rose Folle, now full of tobacco notes and just $40 at Carlos’ (429 Temple Ave., Highland Park; 847-432-0770). Copperblue (580 E. Illinois St.; 312-527-1200), whose list is as well chosen as it is remarkably cheap, offers the fat, honeyed 2005 Roussanne from Northern Rhône star Yves Cuilleron for $39. Good Bordeaux for $30? Beer-centric Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851) has it in the form of 2002 Château Roque Le Mayne Côtes de Castillon, a plush-yet-structured merlot. Once Excessive Markup Central, the list at Shikago (190 S. LaSalle St.; 312-781-7300) now boasts outstanding deals. Witness the 2003 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot, which stays balanced and elegant despite its generous oak. It’ll set you back a mere $40. –Nathaniel Zimmer
Photography: Blackbox Studios, Inc.