5 practical tips for choosing wine in a restaurant
Ever went to a restaurant and your partner, friends or family say: You choose the wine!
Btw Ladies (and Gents), this will also be very helpful to understand what happens on the other side of the table on date night :)
So now the pressure is on!
With all eyes on you will start hecticly scrolling back and forth through the wine list for 10 minutes and, eventually, you might either take the only wine you have ever remotely heard of or you will choose the one that must be good because it’s expensive. The latter will for sure get you the immediate waiter confirmation “Excellent choice”!
But There’s a better way!
Just follow our no-headache MyHappyWines approach. 5 simple steps and you don’t need to take an exhausting master sommelier course.
5 practical tips for choosing wine in a restaurant:
1. Start light
Start light - a nice, fresh white wine or even a flute of bubbles to begin with, will almost certainly get you and your company well off the starting blocks for that evening.
For white try like e.g. a Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio/Grauburgunder (No worries it’s all the same, just in a different language).
Bubbles are also alsways a great choice for a start -a dry Prosecco or Cava is usually absolutely fine (as long as the bottle wasn’t open three days ago).
So don’t to go big & bold right from the start. As with your food - do you order a lighter starter or are you aiming right for the Tomahawk steak?
2. Pair it with food
Ideally, there is the one wine on the menu that best underlines the aromas and flavors of a particular dish.
Nevertheless, it’s unlikely that at a party of two, both will order the exact same dishes. So apart from fancy-schmancy or Michelin-starred restaurants, where wine pairing is available and recommended, this is not a practical option for most dates.
So what can we do? Opt for the middle?! Even though “Red for red meat” is still a good rule, you could screen the list for lighter reds such as a Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder, Beaujolais oder Bardolino that would also match many fish and chicken dishes - particularly if the these come with rich, intense sauces. And an oaked (often carries a “fumé”) Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc can still work perfectly with e.g. duck or pasta.
3. Help yourself
If you (like most of us) are not able to decipher the different grapes, producers or years, you could use the tasting notes next to the wines (if there are some) to help you chose the wine to your dishes . Ask the other(s) on the table for preferences - you want everyone to have a nice dinner experience.
However, there are probably as many different words used in these tasting notes as there are flavors. Generally, it is a good idea to categorise wines into a certain bucket (e.g. light/medium/heavy-bodied for reds) - that will at least reduce the options. See the chart below that gives you an idea of the concept. For the fine-tuning or if there are no tasting notes, do not be shy - ask the waiter to explain differences or help you make a final decision. But now you already have a rough idea what you want.
P.S. Gentlemen, to ask for the way is in most cases still a very good and perfectly manly idea, and can save you from unwanted detours. The effort will be appreciated!
4. Go for a bottle
Except for busy restaurants, where e.g. bubbles are opened constantly and it is therefore fine to order just a glass, you should aim for a bottle. To constantly order “by-the-glass” can not only come pricey (0.1l multiplied by 7.5x to arrive at the bottle price) but in most cases it also comes at substantially reduced choice (and often also lower quality like e.g. house wines).
Photo by Timur Saglambilek from Pexels
We know, a bottle alone might look excessive in the beginning, but when you do a math it is usually worth it. And as long you have a dining partner … it is always polite to offer a drink ;)
5. Do not be too cheap
At least 20 or above. No, it does not mean the age of your date (legal drinking age would be highly recommended though), but the price of a bottle of wine in any decent restaurant.
There is clearly no upper price limit for wine, but there is a lower limit due to the mark-up restaurants add. In many countries in Europe, restaurants typically charge double to triple the original price of the wine, some even more, with the lower-end of the spectrum usually receiving the highest mark-ups.
So to get a decent wine to your dinner, don’t be too cheap, but also have a limit in mind what you want to spend (if the sommelier makes you spend more than you want, the quality of the wine must justify it). But given you of all in the round were tasked to choose the wine, it’s still probable that your company won’t really taste the difference between a good medium-priced wine and an expensive rarity :)
But Ladies and Gentlemen always remember the one GOLDEN RULE - if the other side of the table feels like something specific (e.g. ‘