Purchasing wine in a liquor store and ordering wine at a restaurant can be difficult. We at the WineCollective have taken strides to make the purchasing of wine in a wine boutique a uniquely educational and interesting experience, however there is still that tricky element of ordering wine at a restaurant. Inspired by a post at the Chicago Tribune and nudged by Bill Daley (@BillDaley) on Twitter (follow us @WineCollective) we decided to put together a list of some of our suggestions to make wine selection in a restaurant easier and more enjoyable so you can maximize your dining experience!
Wine lists vary, some may have almost no information other than the name of the producer, country of origin, varietal and vintage. We have even seen lists which lacked some of that basic information! But armed with a few tips and a little bit of pre-planning you can pick gems out of even the most obtuse wine list.
Top 10 Tips for choosing wine at dinner
1. Check your glassware. Glassware is crucial for the enjoyment of a fine wine. Smell the glass even. Does it smell like dog? Don't be afraid to ask for a new set. If necessary, ask for proper type of glassware, something that will do justice to the bouquet of the wine. You can't smell anything from a short wine glass.
2. If you're ordering a red wine, ask the sommelier (or your server) if it should be decanted. We are always surprised at how few restaurants bother with decanting. Many red wines will perform better after being aired out. Feel free to let the wine unwind in your glass before enjoying.
3. Choose a wine to cater to your guest's likes and dislikes, but be flexible with food pairings. Some people may enjoy red while others white. One person is having fish, and the other pork? Try a light bodied Pinot Noir as a compromise. Don't be afraid to experiment with food pairings.
4. Check your phone if you are really unsure. There are lots of apps out there to help you make the decision on what wine to pick with your dinner. Remember price does not equal value.
5. Scan the bar for bottles that have corks in them. Are there dozens of bottles open? How long have they been open for? Ask these questions before ordering wine by the glass. Also, don't be afraid to send something back if it tastes dead.
6. Pay close attention to the serving process. How did they cut the label of the wine? It should be in the middle of the hump, not right on the rim. Did they serve your guest after they gave you a tasting? Common courtesy. Experiencing wine is all in the details. If the restaurant takes pride in their food, they should balance that with proper wine knowledge.
7. Before twirling the wine in your glass take a deep sniff. Smell the wine while it is still. You have a much better chance to pick out any faults before you mask it with some twirling.
8. Sniff, twirl, sniff, taste, aerate. Repeat as much as necessary. Especially helpful if the restaurant hasn't supplied a decanter (why are you there again?).
9. Is the wine being served at the right temperature? Most red wines will actually perform better slightly cooled. Don't even get us started with Pinot Noirs at room temperature, bleach!
10. Corkage. Many restaurants now allow you to bring your own bottles of wine to accompany dinner. This is great, but make sure to check before hand on how much they are charging you. I'm constantly stunned at fees which are over $20 which can be larger than the mark-up on the restaurant provided wine.