(POSTED: August 13, 2006)
Ordering Wine in a Restaurant
Ordering wine in a restaurant is not much different than buying it in a wine store. The main difference is that you have an audience. Yet ordering wine in a restaurant can be intimidating especially if the wine list is extensive.
Experiment or Homework
Keep in mind that even the experts will not be familiar with every selection on a wine list. If you are a novice and your are going on an important date, you should do a little homework to get some idea of what you might want to order. Unless you are feeling extremely adventurous, a restaurant is usually not the place to try something new since the mark up can range from 100 to 200%.
The Wine List
Today, most restaurants have a wine list, but expect a myriad of shapes and sizes. Some establishments might simply offer just a house red or white, while others have a daily blackboard to outline their rotating selection. Most wine lists are presented as a printed menu, with the wines arranged by color; red, white, and rose and the region of country. Additionally, many establishments will number their wines on the list, which helps big-time if you do not know how to pronounce the wine. You can simply say, "I will have the number 8".
Before you order, you are going to want to factor in what you are going to be eating. Unfortunately, not a lot of menus give advice on food pairing. If you need some help talk to the wine steward, or sommelier. They are there to help you make the best decision for your occasion, and a good one will not try to take you out of your price range.
Getting the Best Wine for Your Money
Skip the house wine. Unless you are familiar with the house wine, don't bother because they generally carry the highest mark up. Scan the wine list too quickly to get an idea on the average price of a bottle. Try to stay within this median price range where the mark ups tend to be average.
Choose a wine from the same region as the restaurant's food specialty. A good French restaurant, for instance, should have a solid selection of French wines. Ask the server for a recommendation. Just ask if they have any special values currently.
If two or more at your table are going to have a few glasses of wine, it is cheaper to order by the bottle than the glass.
Many restaurants will open and serve a bottle of wine brought by the patron. A quick call to the restaurant will confirm if this is possible, and if so, they will charge a corkage fee. They usually charge between $5 and $15 per bottle, although some restaurants will charge a lower fee if the wine brought is not on their wine list.