Tips for Ordering off a Wine Menu

As you (hopefully) know, Valentine’s Day is this Sunday! Valentine’s Day usually means reservations at a delicious restaurant and with that usually comes a bottle of wine. Ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant can be very intimidating! Wine lists across restaurants are never the same and since the only information usually given is a producer, region, vintage and price, it sometimes feels like they might as well be in gibberish. Here is a list of tips that will hopefully make ordering a bottle for you and your valentine easier!

Do some research beforehand.

Does the restaurant you're going to put their wine list on their website? If so, take a look at it! This is a great way to explore their wine list on your own time. You can search the internet for tasting notes and ratings to get an idea of what the wine will be like. It's not a perfect science, but definitely is helpful.

Stick to what you know.

This is probably not the time to try that fancy French wine you can't pronounce or a varietal you've never tried before. On the other hand, unless it's tradition or you're extremely risk averse, I'd also shy away from ordering wines you've had before because... well... you've had them before. But if you know you love a Napa Cab or a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, select a producer from the same area.

Don't be rushed.

Sometimes I fee like the waiter gives you a nanosecond to look over the wine list before asking if you'd like to order drinks. If you haven't picked one out beforehand, don't let them rush you! Simply ask them for a few more minutes so you can really look at what you're options are.

Ask for help.

If you're overwhelmed, be sure to ask for help from a sommelier or person familiar with the wine menu! If you've got it narrowed down and need help selecting between two or three, I once read somewhere to ask, "What can you tell me about these?" versus "Which would you suggest?". I think this is GREAT advice because it prevents the person helping you from just choosing one on a whim.

If you are wanting a suggestion from the whole wine list from a sommelier, make sure you have an answer to all of these questions:

  • What will you be eating? At least have an idea of seafood versus beef, etc. This will help them determine red or white.
  • What is your price point? Don't be embarrassed if you think it's "low". A knowledgeable wine person will know a great choice no matter if your price point is $15 or $150.
  • What do you typically like? Try to think of general descriptors (fruit forward, spice, etc.), varietals, and even specific producers you've had before. All of this information will help guide them.

Don't order off the wine menu.

Wait, what?! If you want to avoid the wine list altogether, bring your own bottle! Just be sure to call and ask what the corkage is so you're not blindsided by something outrageous. For reference, most restaurants in Charlotte have a $25 or $30 corkage fee. For special occasions, we see it as a good value proposition that we can take a nice $30 bottle and know that the total $55 or $60 we are paying to enjoy it is less than what we would pay if we ordered something of similar quality of their menu.

Roll with the punches.

If you order something and don't love it, don't be discouraged! It will unfortunately happen from time to time. Just take note of what you don't love about it and use that to help you order the next time. The best way to get comfortable with wine is to keep trying it and learning what you like and don't like. 

I hope these tips will help you feel more comfortable ordering off a wine menu, and more importantly, I hope you enjoy a delicious meal with your valentine!