6 Easy steps to choose your wine at the restaurant
The article below shows you how to nail it with just only 6 simple steps, along with some precious tips that you never want to miss. So, take out a pen and a piece of paper, there might be some notes to learn by heart!
Many of us find it extremely stressful when we begin to order wine in a restaurant, but things shouldn’t be that complicated - it’s just a drink order, after all. Some say ordering wine in a restaurant is like shooting with our both eyes closed. We always aim for a delicious wine, but how can we expect to consistently nail our target when we’re shooting blind? You know, luck doesn’t come to us all the time.
However, I have some good news today with me, my friends. To order such awesome wine and blow your dinner companions’ minds, you don’t actually have to be an expert in this field. The article below shows you how to nail it with just only 6 simple steps, along with some precious tips that you never want to miss.
So, take out a pen and a piece of paper, there might be some notes to learn by heart!
Step 1: Have yourself more time (to decide the style)
It’s kinda confusing for me, personally, to be presented with a wine list that is much longer than my shopping list every end of the month. Don’t hesitate to ask your waiter or sommelier for more time to scan over the list, and here’s how we can analyze the wine list without being clueless:
- Let’s make a brief filter
The more a wine list looks like a wine dictionary, the more confusing the choice can be.
First thing you can do is, stick on your budget (which we will discuss further in the below). Once you’ve got a specific budget in mind, you can mostly eliminate items that exceed your plan (and I generally try to avoid the cheapest and second cheapest wine too, which I’ll explain later).
Or you can try answering these questions to yourself, so that you can clarify your demand in wine-choosing:
Would you prefer Red or White wine?
Is fruit-forward attractive to you more than earthy taste?
Which one makes you feel like trying, light-bodied, medium-bodied or full-bodied?
What dishes are you and your partner gonna be having? As usual, you can either think of your ideal wine style first, and then order your meal based on the wine you choose, or you can pick your food right away. It depends much on your interest.
If you still have loads of wine, maybe consider narrowing it down to regions. For example, if you’re having Italian cuisine, it’s not a bad idea to go on with Italian wines. Or if you’re in a French restaurant, maybe sticking to the French wines will do you good. But if your restaurant isn't themed by region, look over the wine list for any familiar labels or regions.
- Wine that you haven't heard of might be a nice surprise
Most restaurants will try to build up a wine selection with familiar brands that guests expect to find. A French restaurant will certainly have some Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, which you can easily recognize at a glance. Of course, they don’t want to make you panic the same way as you do, but if that restaurant still decides to present you a weird non-appellation brand, it’s worth trying anyway!
There is a high possibility that somebody had tasted it before and loved it so much that they wanted to put it on the wine list. They probably know this would be a tougher sell than a familiar, usual wine, but they determine to carry it anyway!
- Be careful to the second cheapest wine
Some restaurants can be very tricky – they understand that you don’t want to look like a complete cheapskate and they are blatantly aware of this psychological habit. Undoubtedly, they know you will order the second cheapest bottle on the menu, which has the highest markup and is also the cheapest wine they buy!
Adding a certain percentage margin to wines on their selection is not a bad choice as restaurants have bills to pay too. To this, it can simply be understood that the cheapest wine has the highest percentage, but the lowest cash profit.
Step 2: Don’t forget your companions
After you’ve been seated, have a brief discussion with your dinner companions to better understand each other. They may say “You choose”, but it would be very polite (and a bit caring too) if you ask them back about, for example, whether they want individual glasses or bottles, what they like and dislike in wine and food, etc. In that way, you can easily find things in common and more likely to choose a perfect order for both.
What to do when their choices are completely different from yours?
There’s no need to screw up about this. In this situation, you can absolutely order by glasses. Not only do they have lower prices, but they are also less limiting. Another huge bonus by doing this is you can have one kind for appetizer, one for main dish and another for dessert!
In case you’re going in a group of people, ordering by glasses may cost more than bottles, the least risky way is to choose a style of wine that most people are happy with and go with it. Despite the rules in wine and food matches, no meal was ever completely ruined by the wine not matching perfectly.
Step 3: Set your price limit
As I mentioned above in step 1, it’s important to know what is in your financial ability. Don’t let the median price of the wine menu coax you into straying from what you feel comfortable paying. It is never a redundancy to check the restaurant’s price beforehand, which won’t leave you broke after one night.
Coming to money - a subtle problem - some situations may get a little bit awkward when you’re on a date or a business meeting and trying not to look like a cheapskate in front of people. How can we talk to the server about our price range without letting our companions know about that? Here’s how I usually deal in that case!
Just open the wine list, point directly to a price that is affordable and say, “I‘m thinking of a bottle like this.” There's always some unspoken understanding in the restaurant business, and your sayings above can be translated to “This one is affordable for me and I want some more options with the approximately price range”.
Step 4: When in doubt, ask your sommeliers
It is absolutely understandable to ask for guidance from your sommeliers if you’re not an absolute expert. Don’t worried, usually in a restaurant, a trustworthy sommelier/waiter will first propose you 3 different wine options to select, so it’s their job to help you pick your wine, tell you what each is like and goes with at a restaurant! Moreover, nice restaurants probably ensure that their waiting staff have a good knowledge of their wine menu too.
However, before asking for help, here are some hints you can possibly try figuring out yourself:
The wine should be more acidic than the food.
The wine should have the same flavor intensity as the food.
Red wines best match with bold flavored meats (e.g. red meat).
White wines best match with light-intensity meats (e.g. fish or chicken).
Better to choose wine base on the sauce coming along rather than the meat only
Bitter wines (e.g. red wines) are best balanced with fat.
Generally, White, Sparkling and Rosé wines create contrasting pairings.
Generally, Red wines create congruent pairings.
And additionally, I’ve also added in some examples of very popular wines which you can easily run into any wine lists:
Sauvignon Blanc is light-bodied, but it has higher acidity
Chardonnay has more body, but it’s usually not too acidic
Pinot Noir is lighter bodied (for a red wine) and it doesn’t have too much tannin (bitterness).
Cabernet Sauvignon is more full-bodied and has high tannin (more bitterness)
Does it seem much easier now? Let’s make your order!
Oh, and a little advice when ordering is to point directly on the list, or use the wine’s item or bin number if you aren’t sure how to pronounce the wine’s name correctly. It would help not turn you embarrassed in front of people!
Step 5: Sample the wine
So now you have your order! The server will present you with the bottle to confirm if it is what you asked for and the main purpose is for you to check if the wine is corked or not.
Before I show you the wine tasting etiquette, it’s necessary for you to have in mind that if they have wine by glasses, ask them some instead of opening a brand new bottle. Or your sommelier said the chosen wine doesn’t match your food, you can ask for more explanations and consider another one. Okay, let’s get started!
- Make sure they offer you the right bottle
First of all, check the label really carefully, as even an excellent server can accidentally grab the wrong bottle of wine in the rush of service. Avoid getting a totally different taste and price by double-checking the vineyard and vintage you ordered. It isn’t only the restaurant’s fault for serving you the wrong bottle, but also yours for confirming it to be the right one.
- What is corked wine, by the way?
Corked wine means that wine has been contaminated with cork taint, which is usually caused by the inclusion of a chemical compound in the cork. Although cork taint doesn't do any harm at all, it often makes wine smell and taste unpleasant, which will obviously affect how you enjoy the true quality of wine with its wet or musty smell as usual.
- Now take a sniff, your nose will say it all!
Once the identical check is done, a tiny taste of the wine will be poured into your glass and you should start by observing the wine colour to see if it is nice and bright or not before even smelling or tasting it. Then, circling the glass once or twice to sufficiently swirl the wine with the base of the glass kept on the table, this is how people call “unlock the aromas”. Take a deep sniff because the way it smells can give away many potential wine faults, which can be identified without having to sip it in.
- Last but not least, take a sip, ah no, two sips of wine
The final step is to actually taste the wine. When tasting, try to figure out whether it tastes like how the menu describes it. The first sip is likely to prove a little too acidic for the mouth, to make sure, you may want to take at least two sips before coming to any decisions.
This process can be tough at first, but keep in mind that the wine is usually the most expensive part of the meal — so it’s undeniably necessary to invest your time and attention making sure it’s worth your every pennies. Speak up if you detect any problems with the wine as the waiter or sommelier is there to ensure you have the best dining experience possible.
On the other hand, if you have ordered a bottle, the etiquette will be a little different. In the worst situation, when there is a flaw in the wine or it tastes oxidized, for example, you should absolutely send it back, and the sommelier will replace it with a new bottle. However, if it is just simply you don’t like that wine, then returning a full bottle doesn’t work at all.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Now it’s time for you to play the rest of the game, sit back and get ready for the journey! Make sure that you enjoy your night at your own pace, take control of the wine-drinking speed as some restaurants might continuously fill your glass to make sure you will quickly buy some more. On the contrary, there are some times that servers unfortunately forget your table, pour it yourself and keep on enjoying it!
By the way, whether you’re afraid of getting drunk too quickly, the article here https://vietnam-cellar.com/blogs/moi-dieu-ve-ruou-vang/tips-to-stay-sober-when-everyone-is-hecking-drunk can surely help a lot!
In the end, it’s not the technique or etiquette in wine that matters, but your own joy in trying wine generally. Experiences take time, so there’s no need to rush in and try to pretend like you’ve got them all. We are all dummies in the beginning, you know. When you’re done reading this article, it also means that you’re ready to hit it every time, sweetie!