How To Order Wine In A Restaurant Like A Wine Expert
So, you’ve been to a few wineries and gained some knowledge about wine and winemaking. But are you confident enough to order wine in a restaurant? Do you know how to read the wine menu and choose the wine for your table? All that lingo can make the mind boggle. And without the experience, it’s easy to embarrass yourself in the process.
Ordering wine should be easy. Some might say it is even enjoyable when you know what you’re doing. While it’s certainly not as straightforward as ordering a pizza, you can learn how to navigate a wine list with ease, impress your dinner mates and even surprise your waiter.
Whether you are a wine aficionado or looking to impress your date, here are a few tips on how to order wine like a pro.
Yes, price matters
Restaurant wine prices have a hospitality markup. Simply put, you should not expect to pay the same price in a restaurant that you might pay in a bottle shop. Be mindful that the markup on your favourite Pinot Noir covers the service, and expect to pay up to double the retail price.
That said, while price can be a good indicator of quality, it is also not as simple as picking any average-priced wine off the menu.
Set your budget and talk to the waiter/sommelier, especially if you are hosting a large party. The restaurant staff know their wine list better than anyone, and they are trained to make the best recommendation.
Many people feel embarrassed about having a budget, but there’s no need. This is perfectly acceptable. If the sommelier recommends a bottle that’s out of your price range, simply say “that’s a little more than I was looking to spend tonight”. This gives the waiter something to work with so he/she can show you the best wine within your budget.
Most likely, you don’t have to spend more than your budget on a decent bottle of wine. But don’t simply go by price or you might end up with a wine you don’t like, or one that doesn’t pair well with the food. The staff are there to help you.
Needless to say, if you need a ballpark figure on what you can expect to pay, plan ahead. Check the menu prices on the restaurant’s website before you go. You can even research some of the wines to get an idea of their tasting notes.
Don’t be shy, ask for advice
There are thousands of wines out there and it can get rather complicated. Unless you are a wine expert, chances are you won’t know half of the wines on the wine list.
This is where the sommelier comes in. It is, in fact, their job to know their wine list back to front. And it is usually best to let the expert decide.
If you give the sommelier some details to work with, they will give you the best options. For example, tell them what style of wine you like; if you have a favourite region, let them know; or describe your palate, i.e. dry, textural, red, or white. Also, let them know what food you are ordering so they can do the wine and food pairing.
Determine what type of wine
Before ordering wine in a restaurant, it’s best to ask your guests specific questions to find out what type of wine they like. This is important as everyone might have different tastes and different palates.
Consider asking questions like:
- Do you like red wine or white wine?
- Do you prefer earthy or fruit-forward wine?
- Do you prefer sweet or dry wine?
- Do you like full-bodied or light-bodied wine?
- Any year and vintage in preference?
- How about the region?
Of course, some guests may be happy for you to make all the decisions. But it’s best not to assume. While those questions could seem daunting to some, the answers will help you get the right idea of what wine to order.
Once you reach a decision on the type of wine, the tricky part is describing it to your sommelier/waiter in the restaurant.
Here is a simple example: “I would like to order a bottle of red wine to share with four people that are having pasta. We tend to go for New World style Pinot Noir or Australian reds that are light and fruity. Something like this (point to price on the menu) would be perfect. What are your suggestions, please?”
Glass or bottle?
In most Australian restaurants, glass pours are 150 mls, so the first thing to note is that there are five glasses of wine in a bottle. The point here is that some quick calculations could help with the decision.
If it’s just the two of you and you are planning on having one glass each, then order by the glass. However, if its a table of four, you best order a bottle as it will probably be of better value.
However, ordering wine by the glass makes food matching easier, especially in a large group. Not everyone will have the same taste for wine, and it’s likely that most people will be having a different meal. Some may have white meat, while others have red meat or vegetarian. And then, not everyone will want to have wine.
It goes without saying that deciding on your food first could be the smartest option. Then, understanding the basics of food and wine pairing can be the best tool to have under your belt.
In a nutshell, full-bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with hearty dishes like red meat – think steak or casserole. A lighter red like Pinot Noir pairs with pizza, roast lamb, or duck.
If your guests order fish, salads, or vegetarian dishes, the right call will be to order a dry white wine. Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are all excellent choices.
As mentioned earlier, if your guests order completely different meals, you should consider getting different types of wine for the table. This way, all of your guests can enjoy the wine that works best with their food.
If no one is ordering food, light wines might be better on your empty stomach. Try a Rosè, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Ultimately, any wine can be enjoyed without food. And without having to food match, it all comes down to personal taste and preference.
Sample the wine
When the wine arrives, taste it. The reason for this is to determine whether the wine you ordered is corked or flawed. The chance the bottle is cork tainted is low, but it’s best to be sure. You will notice the smell and taste right away.
Some people mistakenly think that the option to taste the wine once a bottle is opened is to check if they like the taste. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Most restaurants will only change the bottle if it has turned. You’ll get that unpleasant fermented smell.
A restaurant will swap a corked wine for a new one, but they will not swap one that simply doesn’t suit your palate. So, be clear and specific about your preferences before you order a bottle.
Being armed with all this knowledge will save you some time and relieve your anxiety the next time you order wine in a restaurant. Not only will you gain points with your dinner companions, but the waiters will appreciate your efforts too.
At Saros Bar + Dining, we offer an extensive international wine list to complement our a la carte menu. From Claire Valley Pinot Gris and Limestone Coast Sauvignon Blanc to Burgundy Chardonnay and Provence Rose, there is a wine for every taste and budget. If you’re not sure what to order, simply ask the friendly staff at our stylish Moonee Ponds restaurant.