Restaurant wine lists can be intimidating, but navigating the wine list is actually pretty simple. With a just a few easy tips you can learn to order the perfect wine for your meal off any restaurant wine list.
The best way to make sure you get what you want from the wine list is knowing what you want. A little wine knowledge can go a long way towards helping you navigate any restaurant wine list. Take the time to learn the basics types of wine, and sharpen your skills by taking note of pairings that work for your palate, as well as those that make you want to retch! There are a few tricks worth knowing about many, if not most, restaurant wine lists. Stick with these and you'll be drinking like royalty!
1.) The lowest-priced wines on a restaurant wine list tend to have the highest mark-ups. What does that matter? Not terribly much, except for the fact that as far as values go, they can frequently be dogs.
2.) The highest priced wines on a restaurant wine list also tend to have higher than average mark-ups, making them less-than-attractive buys, and even worse - they tend to sit around on the list for long periods of time awaiting the one show-off who has more money than brains. If the restaurant doesn’t have good storage, you could end up paying a big premium for a less than pristine bottle. Woof!
3.) Every restaurant has a different approach to wine mark-ups for the wine list, so it’s difficult to really recommend what price point to buy wines at, but anecdotally, from my experience, I have found that the best deals are frequently the wines priced at about three times that restaurant’s average entrée price. Of course sometimes the wine list starts well above that price point, which is why God gave us beer.
4.) Some, but not all or even most restaurants train their staff well or even have a sommelier to help you choose your wine off the wine list. If the wine list you’re looking is hand-written and changes almost daily or require a briefcase for transport, chances are the folks there know what the hot buys are. They are trained for a reason, take advantage of their knowledge! You can always go your own way, but it’s a good idea, and use of your time, to discuss your meal with those who really understand how spicy that dish you're having is, or what secret ingredient makes the shrimp pop, and your preferred wine choice fizzle.
5.) Bashing clichés has been almost a cottage industry on the internet, but there is a reason those clichés came into being. Yes, white with fish and red with meat are simplistic rules that aren’t perfect, but they are good rules of thumb. Get used to asking some very basic questions that can help you make better informed decisions when perusing the wine list. For example, matching the intensity of dish and the wine is usually a good predictor of pairing success. A delicate Riesling might be blown away by a rich pork belly dish, while an intense Cabernet might crush the subtlety of a simply prepared veal chop.