Tips & Tricks for Confidently Ordering Wine At A Restaurant Like A Pro

We’ve all been there. You sit down in a restaurant, they hand you a very large wine list, and you panic. It can be overwhelming. Here are my tips for looking like a pro at a restaurant when ordering wine:

  • Abandon your comfort zone! Don’t panic and order the wine you always get. You’re out to dinner and the goal is to have a good experience. Getting the same ol’ thing is great, but the best wines that I have had are when I’m at dinner enjoying something I never would have picked, and the company is so good that we end up talking about the wine and the dinner for years to come.
  • Ask the Somm, Server, or Manager for a wine suggestion. Let them know what you like and don’t like. They may end up surprising you with a wine you wouldn’t have selected for yourself. Be clear about what you want to spend. I know, I know, it can be uncomfortable and weird to talk about money, but a reasonably priced wine for you could be completely different from the Surgeon or CEO’s reasonably priced at the table next to you. The staff would much rather get you something delicious in your price range rather than something that you are uncomfortable with. Same goes for the sales person at your wine shop – we all want our clients to be happy and come back to shop with us! You can also use descriptors to help them pick something you like, such as “light and fruity” or “dark and earthy red.”
  • When to order a glass vs. a bottle – one wine bottle has ~4 glasses in it. If you are planning on having 2-3 glasses, I suggest getting a bottle. Whatever you don’t finish, you can bring home! Glasses work well if you would like to try different wines. For instance, if you are going with the food and wine pairing route, your appetizer may call for white wine, but your steak dinner requires a bold, red wine. When I’m out with a friend (or two) we always opt for a bottle. It’s more affordable, and one can save more than a few dollars by doing that.
  • I tend to avoid the “house wine.” While it may be the most inexpensive wine on the list, that doesn’t mean it’s the best value. There are often far better value/quality wines available, and at much better prices. Feel free to break out your Vivino app and scan the menu for a quick breakdown.
  • Look for wines that are unique to the area. For example, if you are at a local restaurant, try some local wines! At a French or Italian restaurant? Branch out and try a wine from that country to experience a cultural immersion.
  • When in doubt, stick with wines made right here in the USA! Producers make it easy to identify the style by putting the grape on the label. A wine list is usually very organized, by bottle/glass size and region. They often have a section for vintages (years in which the wine was made) as well.
  • Don’t worry too much about “pairing” with your meal, in fact, throw that food and wine pairing pressure out of the window. I like to pick a wine that suits the mood. In the summer, I love something light and fresh – like a white wine or a rosé. In the fall or winter, I often gravitate towards a rustic red that warms you up to your core. I only say this because I love sharing at the table! If I’m out with friends we’ll get a bunch of dishes to share. This variety makes it challenging to pair just one wine, however the variety of food and memories made is what resonates. You should drink what you like!
  • That being said, if you are looking to craft a food and wine pairing, a good rule of thumb is the following: bolder wines, likely reds, will go with a heartier meal like red meats and stews. Lighter bodied wines will go with fish, salads, and pasta dishes. Last, but certainly not least, versatile rosé and bubbles are great because they go with many foods, or can be enjoyed as an aperitif!

This is only the beginning. To further your wine education, feel free to reach out me directly, visit our blog, or check out external resource, Wine Folly. They’re a fabulous (and free) website with pictures, infographics, and articles. Cheers!