How to Choose the Right Wine in a Restaurant

Sitting down in a restaurant and being handed the wine list, there’s so many choices. Many people struggle with what to choose, strangely, we don’t seem to have the same problem with ordering food. But when it comes to those bottles of red, white and rose, something strange happens.

Should you make your selection based on vintage or price? Which goes best with your food? Do you want something French or Italian? What’s the real difference between grapes and vineyards?

Sometimes it seems you need a degree in winemaking just to understand everything.

Here are some quick steps for getting it right, whether you’re out for a date or trying to impress the boss with your wine knowledge.

Don’t be Fooled by Price

If you are in a high-class restaurant, you may be forgiven for thinking that price is everything. That’s not generally the case. A bottle that costs £20 can get a serious hike when you sit down at a 5-star establishment. It’s not unusual to see vintages in this price range going for £70 to £80, especially in cities like London. Neither is price a serious guide to quality.

Learn Your Grapes

A basic knowledge of types of wine can take you a long way. Do you know your cabernet from your shiraz or your Bordeaux from your St Emilion? There are plenty of resources online nowadays that allow you to brush up on your vineyard varieties. Vintages are important but not so much as you think. Don’t just hit the French wines either – learn about Italian, Spanish and other countries to see what you like most. 

Cheat a Little

One clever idea is to check the wine list out before you get to the restaurant. Again, you can do this online as most restaurants have their own site with a menu list, including wines. This is a great option if you are looking to impress the people you are going with and can give you a head start in making the right choice.

Which Wine, Which Food?

There’s the adage that red wine goes with red meat and white or rose is suitable for dishes such as fish or chicken. If you don’t really understand wines this is okay, but the reality is not so clear cut. There are some very nice reds with subtle bouquets that work perfectly well with fish and vegetarian dishes. The trick is to choose something that works for you and your guests and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Use the Sommelier

High class restaurants will often have a wine expert or sommelier on board. They’re there to be used and can help you make the right choice for your meal and the company you are in. Beware of sommeliers who are prone to colourful adjectives and begin to describe your wine in ways that suggest you’re going to have an out of body experience. Many restaurants nowadays are run by people who are wine buffs and you’ll probably get a lot from the owners if they are enthusiasts.

The good news is that there’s no reason to fear the wine list. Most classy restaurants source quality wines nowadays and you’re much less likely to be given a bottle that tastes like it should have spent a little longer maturing. Finally, always make sure you get your drink in the right wine glass – white is normally served in smaller ones and red in larger; that’s so you can swirl around the wine and get a real sense of the bouquet.

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