How to Order Wine at a Restaurant: Tips for Navigating a Restaurant Wine List

It can be hard to know where to begin when opening a thick, fancy wine menu at a restaurant. How does one know which to choose – without breaking the budget, of course?

“When dining out, consult the sommelier to help with the pairing,” said Patricia Kluge, owner and chairman for Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard. “The preparation and sauce often dictate which wine works best with the meal. Don’t be intimidated by the sommelier’s suggestions. If the pairing is great, you are in for a sensory adventure.”

Restaurant Management GuideA good tip for consulting a sommelier or waiter is to tell them what you’re planning to order, according to Michael “Mac” McCarthy, publisher and wine aficionado in San Francisco, Calif. “They may ask you what you’ve liked in the past to get an idea of your personal taste or offer you a sample of what they recommend – accept that!”

It’s good to have an idea of what you may like before you walk in, according to Andrew Stover, sommelier for OYA Restaurant & Lounge in Washington, DC.

“Fine dining restaurants pride themselves on having knowledgeable servers and sommeliers on-site to assist in wine selections,” said Stover. “If you like Pinot Grigio, for example, but can’t seem to find any on the list, that information is very useful to the staff in making suggestions of other similar wines.“

The (beginning) language of wine

But first, it’s helpful to know the basic lingo. For that, check out the first page of Wine for Dummies to learn:

?    a crisp wine is one with refreshing acidity
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?    a dry wine is not sweet
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?    the finish is the impression a wine leaves when     swallowed
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?    a fruity wine is one whose aromas and flavors     suggest fruit (this does not mean sweetness)
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?    and tannic is a wine that is firm and leaves the     mouth feeling dry
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“Wine doesn't necessarily have to complement,” said Katie Rice, manager of Wisteria, a restaurant in Atlanta, Ga. “Contrasting flavors sometimes is key. An example of this is spicy foods with sweet wine. Nothing goes better with Thai or Indian like a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Dishes with a rich butter sauce are perfect with a drier white. The acidity and dryness help to cut through richness.”

Asking the sommelier or server doesn’t mean the final check is going to break the bank. Another way to give the sommelier some direction toward what may be the right wine is to casually point to a wine on the menu with the ideal price tag and ask for a suggestion.

Another tip is to go regional.

“When I’m in a Tuscan restaurant, I choose a Tuscan wine,” said AnuKarwa, founder and CEO of Swirl Events. “Over the thousands of years that wine was made in a particular region, it was developed to complement the native food style.”

When in Doubt, Use an iPhone App

iPhone apps have become a terrible force. Nowadays there is an app for virtually anything, even for something like this slateplate.com  For the love of God I still can't  figure out  why people would make an app for such a thing and maybe I will never will. But enough about that. For those who may be sommelier-shy or come across the less-than-helpful waiter, there’s an app for that.

The Wine Ratings Guide iPhone application is helpful for those navigating the wine menu or grocery store shelves. The iPhone app features 1 million wine ratings, a food pairings guide and flavor profile descriptors to help find the right wine. At $1.99, the app is like a pocket sommelier.

Not in to apps (or wine, for that matter)? Order champagne!

“Champagne goes with everything!” exclaimed Rice. “If I were stranding on a island with only one thing to drink it would be a great vintage champagne.”

The versatility of bubbles comes from one its primary characteristics: acid. “Acid helps to cleanse the palate, brighten up flavors, and can compete with butter,” said Rice. “Rich vintage champagnes can be bold enough to drink with pork, poultry, even beef.”

Quick Tips

David O’Day, Director of Wine, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, offered these quick tips for ordering wine at a restaurant:

?    Ask for a sommelier or manager who knows the list and     can recommend selections for the party
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?    Be specific on the price point and regions or varietals
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?    Always ask for the best value on the list from a     specific region
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?    Don't be talked into going over the price point or     value of the wine you would like to purchase
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?    Ask for the wine to be decanted and inquire if there is     other glassware available (Riedel glassware, etc.)
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?    When speaking to a sommelier, be open to new     suggestions, regions or varietals
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?    Consider large format magnums (1.5 ltr) if you plan to     consume two bottles
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?    Inquire about half bottles (375 ml) if you are drinking     by the glass
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?    Don't be shy about asking for a small taste of the wine     if ordering by the glass
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?    Don't accept any attitude or indiference from the     sommelier, staff or management when ordering wine