Vino Veritas Ventures

Tips on Selecting Wine at a Restaurant, Continued

In my previous post, I reviewed the two key questions to ask before you start the selection process, then discussed how to make “starting point” selections before the server arrives to take orders for meals and the wine.

Selection, Part II

When the server comes to the table, he’ll take the food orders in whichever way works best for him. After you order your food, let him know that you’ll be making the wine selection for the table once everyone at the table has ordered.

Making the Final Selection

When he returns to you, ask him to review what everyone has ordered (if the table was too large for you to ask everyone earlier). If you still believe that your initial selection(s) would work well, tell him that you were thinking about either Wine X or Wine Y. This will provide your server with a few key pieces of information – first, the price range you’re working in, and the general type of wine (body, acidity, sweetness, etc.) you’re looking to order. Then, ask the server if he thinks your selection would be a good choice, given the food that’s being served, and why.

Pro tip: when selecting wine at a restaurant ask for help!

Wine Professionals Make the Wine Lists

No matter how knowledgeable you are about wine, the restaurant wine list was curated and selected by (hopefully) a wine professional who worked with the chef, tasted the wines with the food and made the decision to put those particular wines on the list. That wine professional will have much more knowledge about the wines on that list than you do – and should have educated each server at the restaurant about the wines, including the reasons they were selected.

Good Servers Know and Help

A good server will be able to provide alternate recommendations within your price range, and explain the reasons why he believes a particular wine is the best choice. Recommending a wine that doesn’t match the food – or that is far outside the price range you’ve indicated – would not be in the best interest of the server or the restaurant.

Bad Servers Upsell

A server trying to “upsell” you might provide additional revenue for the night, but you might leave with a bad taste in your mouth about the experience (figurative—or literal—if you had a poor pairing) and never return to the restaurant. And you’d tell all your friends of the experience. I’ve had many situations in which the server recommended a wine that was well below my price range – and was a perfect match for the meals.

Asking for the Sommelier

If you happen to be very unlucky and are assigned a server who doesn’t seem to be knowledgeable about the wine list, ask very politely if the sommelier or wine coordinator is available. The server shouldn’t take offense, and will likely be very relieved to find someone else to help! In those rare situations where there isn’t anyone in the restaurant who is knowledgeable enough to guide you through the wine list, just do the best you can, and make a mental note never to return!

How Many Bottles Do I Order?

How many bottles should you order to start? My rule of thumb is one bottle for every four people, but that number can fluctuate, depending on whether it’s a “wine-o” crowd (like my friends) or not. You can always order more!

Veritas Reserve

OK… so you’ve selected the wine – great job! But you’re still feeling jittery about the prospect of navigating a large or complex wine list and choosing a wine? Contact me to set up a one-on-one consultation to expand your wine knowledge and increase your confidence in reviewing even the most daunting wine list.

Next post will be tips on tasting! Until then, cheers!

2 Responses to Tips on Selecting Wine at a Restaurant, Continued

  1. Catherine says:

    This post and the last one were really helpful — thank you! My understanding is that the white wine with chicken and fish and red wine with pork and beef rule has gone out the window. Do you have any other rules of thumb for pairing food and wine? Thanks!

    • Loraine says:

      I’m glad you found the posts helpful, Catherine.

      The “rules” that you cite – white with fish & chicken, red with pork & beef – can be good guidelines or starting points for pairing with a meal, so I wouldn’t throw them out the window entirely. Classic pairings – such as Cabernet Sauvignon with a grilled, marbled steak – exist for a reason because the characteristics of the wine complement the food, and vice versa.

      However, there are other elements of the meal to consider, such as preparation, seasonings, and sauces. Let’s look at a dinner table staple: the humble chicken breast. Chardonnay would be a great option for pairing with chicken in a cream sauce, but if you’re grilling it with a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, a Pinot Noir or a Merlot would be a much better choice. For a spicy preparation, such as a curry or (my favorite Indian dish) butter chicken, the acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc or the sweetness of a Riesling can be a perfect match.

      Now I’m hungry! 🙂

      I hope this is useful. Stay tuned for more posts, or feel free to contact us to assist with your next dinner party. Whether it’s a party for 2 or 200, Vino Veritas can help!