How to order wine in a restaurant

How to order wine in a restaurant

Author: Tom Planer

It’s a familiar story. You sit down in a nice restaurant you’ve been waiting to try for ages.

You’re handed the food menu…so far so good. You might not know what Cime di Rapa is, but you know you like the braised lamb it comes with. You can just ask your server - or take a punt.

But peering up from the table is the other menu. The wine list. The scary one.

This one you’re not so comfortable with. The sommelier is going to see you panicking, ask you what kind of wine you like, and you’re going to have to shrug and say “err. Red wines I guess…” again.

Picking a wine in a restaurant can be fairly daunting, even for people who know their stuff.

So how can you start to better navigate your way through this situation? Here are a couple of our top tips to help you choose a wine in a restaurant…

1. Learn what kind of wine you like.

This one seems obvious but it’s easier said than done. Learning what wine you like is hard unless you spend a lot of time drinking a lot of wine. But it’s worth putting some effort in as it will make every restaurant experience a little less stressful.

Our Taste-Finder kit is the quickest way to figure out your wine tastes. 

2. Learn what you DON’T like.

This is even more important. A lot of the time a mediocre wine won’t completely ruin a meal. But a wine that really doesn’t suit your tastes or the meal definitely will.

3. Learn how to describe what you like.

Learning how to describe what you like is going to help your server make better recommendations.Find a couple of wines you like and look up tasting notes online while you’re drinking it. Read the tasting notes while really thinking about which parts you do & don’t like - this will help you learn a more detailed vocabulary to chat to your sommelier or server.

4. Don’t be scared of the sommelier.

Ask them questions. They’re not going to think you’re an idiot for not knowing as much about wine as they do… it is their job after all. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation. Tell them what you’re eating. Describe what you do & don’t like.

5. Pick a price and stick to it.

Yes restaurants need to make money. But they don’t want you to have a bad time or spend more than you can afford and leave a bad review. If you have a price range or upper limit - just say so. If the sommelier tries to push you above this, gently guide them back to your comfort zone.

6. Save the premium wines for home.

Explore when you’re out for dinner.

Barolo, Burgundy & Bordeaux can all be delicious if they’re your thing. But restaurant mark ups can be pretty steep (sometimes 4 x what you’d pay in a shop). If you know you like a prestigious style of wine but don’t want to fork out for it - ask the sommelier if there’s anything similar on the list from a more unusual region or at a more reasonable price point.

7. You don't need to taste the sample and tell them how nice it is.

The ritual of pouring a sample to the head guest is there so you can tell if the wine is faulty before the other guests try it.

If you smell wet dog or musty basement there's a chance the wine is corked. If you think it's faulty - just say. Don't feel guilty - if you're wrong and it's not faulty, they'll usually bring you another bottle anyway and serve the "faulty" one by the glass. If it is corked they'll get a refund from the supplier. 

8. Get a glass of something sweet for dessert.

There are many complexities to food & wine pairing but generally speaking, if you don’t go too heavy with light dishes, or too light with heavy dishes you’ll be ok.

One thing that is really jarring though is drinking a dry wine with a sweet dessert. Try a glass of something sweet or switch to cocktails with a bit of sugar. Maybe order some cheese while you finish your glass of red.

Remember to check out our taste-finder kit to quickly get a handle on which styles of wine you like. Or subscribe to get regular bottles of wine to match your tastes.

Recommended products

Next article

Wine... it's complicated

Wine is confusing to most people. In the UK about half the population buy a bottle monthly or more. But even among those regular drinkers, 3 in 4 of them find navigating the wine selection in a sup...
read More
Next article

A Vegetarian's Guide to Wine Pairing

When you read pairing suggestions for wine, many people often default to a fairly simple red for meat, white for fish, vegetarians - figure it out for yourselves. The first part of this makes a bit...
read More