You’re seated at a table staring at a mammoth list of wines written in a language you can’t decipher, surrounded by friends each of them looking at you,
and the server asks the most challenging of all questions: “What wine can I bring you?” You stare blankly and don’t respond.
That is not how the wine process should go. In fact it’s much easier than all that.
Here are 5 tips to help make choosing a wine easier.
1. Take time to read the wine list.
Wine lists are as varied as the food menu at restaurants. You’re not expected to open the menu and instantly pick a wine. Read through the wine offerings. Don’t rush.
Usually within the first few moments of being seated, your server will approach the table and ask “May I bring you anything to drink?” Tell them, “I’m reading the wine list, please come back in a few minutes.”
2. Look for the restaurants specialty.
As you peruse the wine list take notice of the types of wines and where they are from. If the restaurant has 27 French wines and 3 wines from the U.S., they care more about French wines. Go with the wines the restaurant focuses on.
3. Decide on color and varietal.
Are you looking to pair your wine with food? Do you want a flavor you’re familiar with? Do you want a wine that surprises you? Looking at the food menu could help here. Does the restaurant feature sea food? Look at white. Are you dining at a steak house? Red would be a good place to start. This is the most personal part of the selection process. If all else fails, go with a wine which typically has the flavors you enjoy.
4. Decide your price point.
How much do you want to pay for a bottle of wine? Keep in mind you are out at a restaurant which means you’re going to pay more than retail. If you’re at a restaurant that takes pride in its wine, do not choose the cheapest wine on the list. It’s better to choose the 2nd or 3rd least expensive wine. The wines at the lower price point are less expensive and will still be good.
5. Ignore the wines you can get at your local store.
You can eat at home, but you chose to dine at a restaurant. The same holds true for your wine. You can drink at home, but you’re out. Give a different wine a chance. Even if the wine isn’t great, it will still be pretty good.
Bonus Tip: If you haven’t found your wine by now, you’ve likely narrowed the list of possible wines to 2 or 3. At this point tell your serve “I can’t decide between these wines.” This next part is important. DO NOT ask “Which do you recommend?” It’s better to ask “What can you tell me about them?”
If you ask for a recommendation, the server will likely pick one and there’s no assurance they know any more than you. Asking “What can you tell me about them?” allows the server to share their knowledge of the wine or bring someone to the table to help. Watch and listen to see which one they are truly excited about and choose that one.
Choosing wine at a restaurant can be a daunting task. However, it doesn’t need to be. With a little preparation and deliberate action wine selection becomes an enjoyable process. Equipped with these 5 tips your next dining adventure with wine will be more fun and tasty.
Victor Mazzeo is a food and wine enthusiast who’s worked many years in the food service industry both front of the house and back of the house. He enjoys running, cycling, and triathlon. He is currently a stay at home dad earning a living drinking and sharing wine. His own musings can be found at PourAndEnjoy.com