Bottoms Up: How to order wine in a restaurant

One of the most intimidating aspects about wine is ordering it in a restaurant. This, by far, creates the most anxiety among diners. Here are some helpful tips to make ordering wine easier and less stressful.

First and foremost, decide on what you want to eat. Then you can attack the wine list to see what works best with your food choice, taste and budget.

Next, decide on how much you plan to drink. Of course, social responsibility is always an issue, but if you’re not driving, then you have more freedom. If you’re the only one in your party drinking wine or plan to have only a couple glasses, don’t order a bottle. Order by the glass instead. This also gives you the opportunity to try several different wines. Just keep in mind that the “by-the-glass” selection in most eateries is limited as compared to the bottle list.

Avoid ordering the “house wine”. It usually has the highest mark-up of all the wines on the list and, most of the time, is mediocre. You are better to “drink up”. Spending a few more dollars on a wine will deliver a better sip and, more than likely, a lower mark-up.

Generally, don’t order wine that is so overpowering that you can’t properly taste the food. The chef in most decent eateries goes to great extremes flavouring dishes, so you don’t want to overwhelm the delicate nuances. Try to avoid extremely alcoholic, overly oaky and tannic wines. These will shock your taste buds preventing you from properly tasting the food and its complexity.

Ask questions of the sommelier or wait staff. This is a really important issue. As many restaurants nowadays have regular tasting sessions with their staff where they sample wines off their list, most servers (or the sommelier) have a good idea what their products taste like and can give you some guidance.

Start by asking the server what they suggest with your dish that’s in your budget. In my experience, ordering the cheapest wine on the list does not usually fare well.

If a novice or inexperienced oenophile, tell the server what you normally drink so they can suggest something similar that will work with your food choice. You might ask the server what they like to drink, as they usually know the good deals, quality and pricewise. If the server suggests something you are not familiar with, have them describe the taste so that you can get an idea of the flavour and decide if you would like it or not. Many folks order wine they don’t know in a restaurant and think it’s bad because they don’t like the taste, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. This little tip could prevent that. A final note about asking the server for advice: you don’t have to take it if you don’t want. Keep in mind it’s a recommendation and nothing more.

A couple of post ordering notes: Once the server has poured your first glass, if ordering a bottle, it’s probably best to continue pouring your own as most wait staff tend to continuously top your glass up, leaving no room for swirling and aeration. Sip plenty of water alongside your wine as well to help dilute it in your system.

Hopefully, these wine-ordering tips will lighten your stress level when dining out. Remember, you are paying for the wine, so don’t be shy about making sure you get the best experience possible.

Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator, judge


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