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TheWineBuyingGuide.com

How to Order Wine at a Restaurant

Never stress about a wine list again.

By: Kristin Anderson, Editor, TheWineBuyingGuide.com
How to Order Wine at a Restaurant
How to Order Wine at a Restaurant
This image courtesy of istockphoto.com

Even for people who enjoy drinking wine regularly, knowing how to order wine at a restaurant can be daunting. Often the wine menu is huge, it’s full of wines you’ve never heard of, and the list may not even be in your native language. To add pressure, the bottles are often pricey enough that you don’t want to make a mistake.

Although all of that is intimidating, the good news is that there are a few simple tricks that can make ordering wine at a restaurant much more enjoyable. By employing savvy ordering habits, looking for under-the-radar wines, and knowing when to ask for help, you can easily order a great wine at an appropriate price. Your dinner companions will be impressed by your comfort with a wine list and may even be relieved to have someone who knows how to order wine for the table!

Tips for Ordering Wine

Avoid buying by the glass

Although the low price of wine by the glass might be appealing, know that you’ll be paying a huge mark up. The restaurant price of a glass of wine is usually the price of the entire bottle, wholesale. So, if you buy a glass of wine for $9 at a restaurant, you could probably purchase the whole bottle from a retailer for $12.

To make matters worse, they could be cheating you with a stingy pour. It’s also possible that your glass is being poured from a bottle that was opened the night before and was not preserved properly. This could affect the taste of your glass of wine.

Unless you have to drive home, are the only one drinking wine, or want a different wine for every course, it’s almost always better to buy a bottle.

To save money, avoid popular wines

Wines from popular regions tend to be more expensive. Because everyone is familiar with wines from Burgundy, Tuscany, California, and other appellations, these wines tend to sell at inflated prices because of their popularity.

The good news is that there are plenty of delicious wines available from lesser known areas. Look for wines from Chile, Portugal, Spain, Slovenia, and other less obvious areas. If you’re concerned about not knowing what you will get from those regions, ask your server or sommelier to provide insight. This is also a good idea if you are at a French or Italian restaurant, where you may be unfamiliar with the regions and wines. Speaking of your sommelier, this brings us to our best tip for ordering wine at a restaurant.

Ask the sommelier for assistance

This is how you navigate any wine list! Even wine pros will often ask for a recommendation, because the sommelier will know that 60 page wine list far better than you can hope to in 10 minutes. Let the sommelier know what type of wine you like – red, white, bold, medium-bodied, spicy, smooth, fruity, buttery, acidic, high tannin, etc. – and ask for a recommendation. He or she may ask what you are ordering for dinner in order to help with a good food and wine match.

What about price? Sommeliers work for the restaurant, and so they’re going to point out bottles in the medium-to-expensive price range, unless you let them know otherwise. A tip for subtly indicating your price range (in case you don’t want to announce it to your table) is to point to a price on the wine list and say, “I’d like to be in this region.”

Once you have selected a wine, be sure to communicate clearly which bottle you would like. Pointing and also saying the name of the wine (even if you’re not sure of the pronunciation) helps avoid confusion.

These tips will help you enjoy a delicious wine at any restaurant. There’s no reason to worry, just enjoy your evening (and your wine)!

Are you adventurous when ordering wine? Let us know in the comments below!

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The tip about avoiding particular regions is a great one. I've found that Chile is one of my favorite wine regions, and their wines are often a lot cheaper that the same varietal from France.

These are great tips! Sadly, I'm not very adventurous when ordering wine at restaurants - I always panic when it's time to order and stick with moscato. I'll keep these tips in mind so I can break out of my wine-ordering comfort zone!

I love wine, but frequently end up ordering a cocktail or beer because there are so many variables with wine! When I do order wine, I typically try to convince my dining companion that a bottle is the way to go. Who wants to spend $10 for a glass of a $12 wine? Avoiding popular regions is a great idea for saving money, which I never would have considered. Thanks for the tips!

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