Perplexed by a wine list? We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a tight selection of quirky wines at a neighbourhood joint, or an expansive list from an award-winning cellar, restaurant wine lists can be confusing to navigate.
Wine menus are meant to be roadmaps to oenophilic bliss. If you are bored with your typical safe choice–looking at you, Mr. Second-wine-on-the-list!–or want to impress your friends with an unexpected yet delicious choice, here are a couple tips to get you started.
1. Ask for directions.
No, this is not cheating. Make friends with your sommelier or bar manager. They know their wines best and will be able to recommend something based on your food order or preference.
2. Have a favourite grape.
Know what you like, be it a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or Burgundy pinot noir, then look for something similar to it (or ask your new best friend, the somm).
3. Order wines by the bottle, not glass.
Not only is this a more economical choice, but it opens your options up to the really good stuff. Restaurants normally don’t serve their premium wines by the glass, so take a risk and try a bottle.
4. Taste the wine, then make it count.
If you are ordering by the glass, ask for a small taste so you can be sure you like the wine before ordering the whole glass. Ask about the wines you try and like–where are they from, what’s the grape, vintage, etc. This will help refine your palate and overall knowledge.
When ordering by the bottle, you may feel more pressured to commit to your choice. But it’s best for everyone if you’re honest with your feedback. Your server may even be able to help you enjoy your selection more–whether chilling the wine to a more optimal serving temperature or letting the wine breathe so it can open up. Worst case scenario, they open a new bottle for you and other guests get to enjoy a premium bottle by the glass.
5. Try something different.
Now go on and be brave! Try something outside of your comfort zone. Look for a wine that the restaurant specialises in, or try something from a new region. The world of wine is weird and wonderful, and all yours to discover.