Having worked in numerous restaurants and as someone who eats out quite a bit, the majority of people, when ordering wine in a restaurant, all gravitate to the medium-priced bottle of whatever it is they want to drink. No one wants to order the inexpensive house bottle, but nor do they feel the expensive bottle is worth it. And they are right.
When you begin drinking enough wine, you realize that a $6 bottle in the store costs $20-$30 at a restuarant. A $10 bottle goes for $40-$50 and so on. But really, a sommelier or wine steward should guide you to a complimentary (not as in free) glass for your meal.
GQ’s Alan Richman offers some advice for those flummoxed by ordering wine when eating out. Most of these pertain to fancier restaurants, but it’s great advice nonetheless. Here are the tidbits most appropriate for the average person:
3. With most wine-by-the-glass programs, restaurants try to recoup the price they paid for the bottle on the first glass they sell. Try to order a half-bottle instead. The virtue of ordering wine by the glass is that the restaurant should allow you a complimentary taste.
4. Here’s what you do with a cork when it’s presented to you: Nothing. No sniffing, please. If it has printing on it and the bottle is expensive, check to see that the information on the cork coincides with what’s on the label. If not, you might have a counterfeit.
5. Save the slurping and gargling for Napa Valley tasting rooms and morning mouthwash. Try not to turn the stomachs of your guests with primitive rituals.
8. Don’t be intimidated by huge, clunky, leather (okay, naugahyde) wine lists. They’re your friends. If they’ve been around awhile, and most have, they almost always have beautifully aged bargains hidden away.
10. Decide if you love vintages or producers. Sommeliers love producers. They’re met them. They dined with them. They consider them infallable, even in terrible years. I love good years, full of surprises from unknown winemakers. You get wines that taste of a moment in time, not of a high-tech cellar.
But the best thing about ordering wine at a restaurant is you get to drink it! So relax, have fun, drink a lot of wines to figure out what varietal you enjoy.