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 first. 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 compared to the bottle list.
Avoid ordering the “house wine.” It usually has the highest markup 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 markup.
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 flavoring 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 really important. As many restaurants now have regular wine-tasting sessions with their staff, 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 he suggests with your dish that’s within 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 he can suggest something similar that will work with your food choice. You might ask the server what he likes to drink, as he’ll usually know the good deals, quality and pricewise.
If you’re not familiar with the suggested wine, ask the server to describe the taste so you can get an idea of the flavor and decide if you would like it or not. Many folks order wines they don’t know in a restaurant and think they’re bad because they don’t like the taste, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the wine. 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 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 top your glass up leaving no room for swirling and aeration.
- Sip plenty of water alongside your wine to help dilute it in your system.
Hopefully, these wine-ordering tips will lighten your stress level when dining out. Remember that you are paying for the wine, so don’t be shy about making sure you get the best experience possible.
© Edward Finstein, “The Wine Doctor” 2016. “The Wine Doctor” is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine and consultant. (winedoctor.ca, twitter.com/drwineknow, thewinedoctor.blogspot.com, winedoctor.ca/docs-grapevine.html, facebook.com/edwarddocfinstein