You love wine, you love food. It’s a match made in heaven! But if you’re new to wine or if you tend to get overwhelmed when you look at a restaurant wine list, this blog’s for you.
Take heart—wine can be very intimidating. After all, there’s a lot to know, and it’s complicated! When you’re out with friends or you want to impress your date, there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than thinking you’re going to make a poor decision.
So today, let’s look at a few ways you can ease the stress of choosing wine in a restaurant. And while we can’t guarantee you’ll love everything you buy, you can certainly reduce the risk and maybe learn something new along the way.
How to Buy Wine in a Restaurant
You’re at the table, the server hands you the wine list. What now?
1. Do they have a sommelier?
If the restaurant has a sommelier, do not hesitate to ask to speak with them. They are the de facto experts on their wine list so they can help you narrow down your choices. Be sure you know what you want to spend and be prepared to answer some questions, and don’t be afraid to ask some of your own!
2. Choose wines by the glass instead of a bottle
Restaurants with good wine lists often have several by-the-glass options. The great thing about going by the glass is that you might be able to try a couple of different wines, so the exploration potential is greater. Also, you can ask to taste the wine first before you commit as they’ll likely have it open. If you are interested in trying several wines, don’t be afraid to ask if they have “tasting pours.” That means you’ll be able to try smaller portions and perhaps try three or four wines. Not all restaurants will accommodate, but it never hurts to ask!
3. Decide how much you want to pay
You might think the server or sommelier will judge you based on your price range, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, staying within your price range gives you a strong starting point. The sommelier might suggest something that is a few dollars more if they feel it’s a better choice, but they should not force you to spend a lot more—that’s just bad business.
4. Consider what you’re going to eat
There aren’t too many “wrong” answers where wine is concerned, but as long as you avoid big bold reds with spicy food or dishes with lighter sauces, you’re probably okay. Choose lighter wines at the beginning of the meal and save the heavyweights for the main course.
5. Try something new
You might be craving a specific wine—and that’s totally okay. Enjoy! But make a point of venturing out of your comfort zone now and then as that’s when some of the most surprising discoveries occur. Ease into it with lateral moves; for example, if you know you like cabernet sauvignon from California, why not try one from Chile or Argentina instead? Getting to know a varietal that way helps you identify the similarities—and the differences—between countries and regions that make similar wines. Don’t be afraid to explore!
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