If you're like me, you love wine. But sometimes, ordering wine at a restaurant can be a little intimidating. What if you order the wrong bottle? What if you get charged too much? But don't worry! As a certified sommelier, I'm here to help!
With a bit of knowledge and guidance, you can quickly become a pro when ordering wine at restaurants. In this blog post, we will teach you how to order wine like an experienced wine drinker so that you can avoid poor choices and less-than-stellar dining experiences.
Choosing Your Bottle of Wine
1. Ask the Sommelier
If the restaurant has a wine sommelier or specialist, just ask them! They are the best choice to help you because one of their most essential tasks is selecting and purchasing wines that will go well with the chef's meals.
Many people will feel a little intimidated by the sommelier and opt not to interact with them. That's most likely because they don't know how to communicate or what questions to ask.
Many individuals may simply inquire, "What would you suggest?" It's a reasonable question, but it may not provide enough information for the sommelier to make an informed suggestion. So, let's go over what you should tell a sommelier to get the best advice.
Keep in mind that you must have an idea about what types of wines you enjoy. Here are the 4 key things you should consider when ordering your wine from your sommelier:
- Budget. Tell the sommelier how much you're willing to spend on a bottle of wine. If money is no object, let them know how high your budget can go for a single bottle. For instance, you may give a price range – a sparkling wine between $20 to $30 or a sherry $50 to %60.
Fruit Vs. Earth Wines. This is when you need to know a little about the wines you like. Do you prefer a fruit-forward wine or an earthier wine?
Examples of fruit-forward wines are Shiraz, Zinfandel, Port, Moscato, Dolcetto, Riesling, Sauternes, Beaujolais, and Malbec. Wines that produce earthier notes are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, etc.
Body of Wine. This is how you would like the wine on your palate to feel. Would you prefer a light-bodied or full-bodied wine?
Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling are examples of lighter wines. Heavy reds are Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Zinfandel, Malbec, and Bordeaux Blend.
- The Food You Plan on Ordering. What type of meal are you planning on having? The wine should complement the food, not compete with it. For example, a light-bodied red would pair well with an appetizer or side dish. A full-bodied white pairs well with seafood and fish.
As an example, you can tell your sommelier when ordering wine at a restaurant, “I’d like to have a fruit-forward, light-bodied wine for around $50 to 60. And I plan on ordering the lamb chops with potatoes. What would you suggest?”
2. Do Your Research
Many restaurants have websites that provide their wine lists online. So study beforehand and take the pressure off being placed on the spot when making your selection.
You will impress your friends or date by making a quick, precise choice while skillfully matching the wine with the meals. Take note that wines are often listed based on new vs. old world, regions, price, and light to full-bodied.
3. Respect the Region
If there is no wine expert at the restaurant or you want to make your own selections, employ one of the most basic wine and food pairing principles. In general, food and wine from the same region go well together.
For example, if you go to an Italian restaurant that serves Italian cuisine, choose an Italian wine. If you're not sure what region a dish is from, ask your server for help—they will likely be happy to give you some suggestions.
4. Choose Your Price Point
As mentioned previously, it’s important to know what your budget is before asking for a wine recommendation. But what is the best price point for wines at a restaurant?
There will always be a significant markup when dining out and ordering wine. Depending on the type of restaurant, location, and many other criteria, restaurants will have varying ranges of wine prices.
The cheapest wines will be the most budget-friendly, and as long as you’re in a reputable restaurant, these wines will generally taste good. However, they also usually have the largest markups, and the price may be up to 4x the retail amount.
On the flip side, the most expensive wines tend to have the least markup, but of course, they are the most costly. So typically, it is recommended to choose a price point in the middle of the range as long as it fits your budget and matches your food and wine preferences.
After choosing your bottle of wine, it is also vital to know about the wine presentation.
Look at the Wine Bottle Label
The sommelier at the restaurant will always show you the bottle you selected before opening it. To ensure that you are getting the wine you ordered, look at the label and check to make sure it is what you chose. You should be checking these 3 things:
- Winery. This is where the wine was made.
- Varietal. This refers to how many grape types were used in making the wine.
- Vintage. It tells you how old the wine is.
You might be surprised how often they incorrectly bring out the wrong bottle. It's easy to make a mistake when selecting wine, especially if many varieties are available and vintages can vary from year to date. So this is where you should double-check that you have the correct bottle.
Give them a nod to open and pour it for your table if everything looks good.
Smell and Taste the Wine
Now that you have the correct bottle, the wine professional will open it in front of you, remove the cork, and give it to you.
You have to check and ensure the end of the cork that was inside the bottle touching the wine is slightly wet. It is a warning sign if the cork is completely wet or completely dry and crumbly. This doesn't mean the wine is terrible; however, you still have to smell and taste it.
- As the sommelier pours a small amount of wine into your glass, swirl the wine gently to release its aromas.
- Then, smell the wine. If you notice wet cardboard or a vinegar scent, that's a bad sign.
- If not, taste the wine. You'll know you got a lousy wine if it tastes vinegary or just bad.
If you have observed any negative indications, don't be afraid to acknowledge them and simply tell your sommelier what you think of the wine. It's better to be honest than pretend you like a wine when you don't.
To assess whether the wine is acceptable, the sommelier will do a quick smell and taste of it. But if everything appears to be smelling and tasting great, then enjoy your food and drink!
We recommend that you take small sips at first and let the wine sit on your tongue for a few seconds before swallowing. This will allow you to get the full taste of how the flavors evolve in your mouth as you swish it around.
Ordering wine can be a daunting task, but it's easy if you go into it with some knowledge and understanding of what to do!
Follow this guide on how to order wine like a pro, and you’ll be able to navigate any wine list with ease. Just remember to do your research, know your preferences, and choose your price point wisely. And if you’re ever unsure about anything, just ask your server or the wine specialist at the restaurant.
Mark Fang is a certified sommelier and has over 10 years of wine industry experience. He founded the #1 Wine Event in New York City and has started WineO Mark to find his readers the best wine deals.