The most popular bottle on any wine list is the second cheapest. That’s not just because people don’t like to part ways with their hard earned cash. The fact is, many of us panic when presented with a long, winding wine list.
Ordering vino in a restaurant isn’t quite as easy as it should be, but remembering these three tips will go a long way in easing your anxieties and helping you order like someone who has the faintest idea what they’re doing.
1) Figure out what you’re eating before you order a bottle
One of the “rules” of the food and beverage industry is that a good server should have drinks on the table within 15 minutes of your arrival. There ain’t nothing wrong with that, but when it comes to getting a bottle, pre-emptive ordering can lead to hasty decisions and bad pairings.
If you’re ordering a bottle, don’t commit to one until you (and your party) have figured out what they’re eating and what sort of wine might work with those dishes. Your server will understand. This way you won’t end up trying to reconcile a refined slice of salmon with a spicy, overpowering Malbec.
The best wine is the wine that makes your food even better, so don’t put the cart before the horse. Plus, you can always order a cocktail or two in the meantime…
2) Let grape names be your guide
Tossing out a bunch of adjectives (sweet, big, spicy, fruity, tart, earthy) is like walking right into a minefield. To begin with, wine is super subjective. On top of that, those trained to talk about wine (any good server is) will probably interpret your descriptions in that highly technical, non-intuitive and out-of-touch way wine people have mastered.
To avoid any crossed wires (and/or being corrected at the table) try to recall the names of the grapes that went into wines you’ve loved in the past. This will reduce the margin of error, help navigate the pitfalls of subjectivity and will probably spare you a lecture on how ‘sweet’ actually means ‘fruity.’
3) Let your server do the work
As shameful as it sounds, don’t be afraid to ask questions and/or let your server take the lead. They know what you’re eating, they’ve tried all the wines and even if they don’t know the first thing about it- someone who knows a ton (a sommelier) has told them what to do, say and pick in all sorts of different scenarios.
At the end of the night, eating out isn’t about impressing people or pride, it’s about ingesting delicious things. There’s a good chance your server (the person trained to make your experience as sweet as possible) is more than capable of helping you achieve that goal… so put ’em to work.