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How to Choose from a Restaurant Wine List (Without Losing Your Shirt or Your Dignity)

Many people are uncomfortable choosing from a restaurant wine list, especially when they're with people they don't know well. Will you pick a bottle they like? Will you look like a cheapskate or a spendthrift? I hope you find these tips helpful:

  • Ask for help: Find someone to help you, usually the sommelier, the bartender or "someone who knows the wine list well." Ask which wines the sommelier is most excited about or, "What can you tell me about this wine? Does it pair well with some of the dishes on the menu?"
  • Expensive Doesn't Mean Better: Knowing the retail price of a popular wine can help you gauge the markups on the rest of the list. Many diners actually mistrust a moderately priced wine, assuming it's no good. But if you know the markups (100% is considered reasonable to cover a restaurant's operating costs), you'll know if you're looking at plonk or a fairly priced wine.
  • Drink Local: Focus on the area of the list that seems best stocked, which often is wine that complements the restaurant's cuisine. An Italian trattoria usually offers lots of Chiantis that are great with pasta; or a steak house will likely be strong on full-bodied cabernets that pair with meat. When in or near a wine region, drink those wines.
  • I'll be back tomorrow to chat about the questions I'm asked most frequently.


Books mentioned in this post

Natalie MacLean is the author of Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass

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