Navigating Your Way Through a Wine List
You’re having a special meal with your honey or your colleagues, and the server hands you the wine list. Suddenly, you get that deer in headlights feeling. What should you order? What goes with everyone’s meals? Will it look bad if you go for something cheap?
Here are some tips from our resident wine expert, sommelier Erin Sullivan, to help you avoid any awkward moments and look like a pro.
How are wine lists organized?
Wine lists can be organized in a number of different ways ranging from the most basic red and white list to a detailed run down of wines including information on appellation, tasting notes and vintage. These days, you might even see wine lists organized by grape varietals, by regions of the world or by style (like velvety, bubbly, robust).
Is it okay to order the cheapest bottle of wine on the list?
Erin tells us that you shouldn’t fear the cheapest bottle. “It was chosen to be on the list for a reason, and it passed the test,” she says. On every wine list, there will always be one bottle of wine that is the cheapest. If it’s the right bottle for you, don’t hesitate to order it.
Can you enjoy the same wine even if you’re having completely different dishes?
It’s important to remember that there are no hard and fast wine pairing rules—and they’re broken all the time. Even if you’re ordering a steak and your dining partner wants shellfish, you could meet in the middle with your wine selection. In this case, a lighter-style red wine with high acidity could work with both dishes. If you can’t meet in the middle, ask your server about the restaurant’s selection of half bottles so you each get what you want without having to order two complete bottles.
Is it better to order by the glass or by the bottle?
If you’re going to be enjoying more than a couple of glasses, it’s usually more cost effective to buy a bottle. However, if the restaurant you’re dining at is offering a great deal on wine by the glass and something catches your eye—take advantage of it!
During special events or holidays, some restaurants may even offer a flight of wines for you to experience with your meal. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to let the sommelier show off his or her skills with an interesting selection.
Do you ever send back a bottle of wine?
If you’ve selected the bottle and you simply don’t like it, Erin doesn’t recommend that you send it back. However, if it’s a bottle that your server or sommelier selected for you as the best choice to accompany your meal and you disagree, you can request an alternate bottle.
Erin says another case where you should ask for another bottle is when you suspect that the wine is flawed – if it is corked or unsound in some way. The best way to handle the situation is to invite your sommelier to try the wine with you and determine together if it’s time to get a different bottle of wine.
When in doubt, ask your server or sommelier for help. It’s their job to assist you in choosing the best bottle of wine to pair with your meal – and they generally don’t mind showing off their expertise.