It’s a familiar scenario: You’re escorted to your seat at a restaurant, and promptly handed the wine list. Vini di California…Vini di Italia…a laundry list of whites and reds…vintages, and what is petite syrah, anyway?
Oh, the wine list. Too often it is feared when it should be savored. Here are some tips on navigating the wine list at your favorite restaurant:
Study up. Most restaurants make their wine lists available on their website, so you can review it before you dine. You may not make a decision ahead of time, but you can arrive prepared with questions about the wines that interest you. Don’t have a chance to check it out ahead of time? Take a few minutes with it when you arrive. Don’t feel rushed. These lists are lengthy, and much of the information will be unfamiliar to you. Which brings us to our next point…
Ask questions. Lots of them, if need be. Start by asking what the restaurant specializes in. Wine professionals put significant time and effort into creating this list for your enjoyment. The wait staff or wine steward is there to help. They will know what pairs nicely with the entree you’re considering, and can make interesting suggestions within your price range.
Budget ahead of time. Wine can range from $30 to upwards of $500 a bottle at some restaurants. Know what you’re most comfortable spending to provide focus and make your decision easier. This will also help restaurant staff to make appropriate suggestions within your price range.
Look for familiar names. Not to order them, necessarily, but to give you a sense of the sommelier’s tastes. See something you like? Great! Trust that you’ll likely enjoy other selections he or she has made as well. When in doubt try ordering a variety from a winery you have enjoyed in the past.
Explore vintage options. Vintage-dated wine indicates that it was made in a particular year. “Good” vintages are well-balanced, based on outstanding growing conditions that year. But don’t be afraid to try an “off” vintage wine. How do you spot one? Look for several vintages of the same wine on the list. Typically, one will come with a much lower price tag. This is because the cheaper vintage was produced in a year that wasn’t known to be one of the very best. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, so give it a try.