Dining out should be an enjoyable, relaxing experience. That goes for ordering the wine, too.
But as consumers, we always need to keep in mind that a restaurant is a business, and a tough one at that. For many fine-dining establishments, being able to make money by selling wine is a critical factor in being able to keep the doors open.
Restaurants mark up wine prices for several reasons, including the storage space required, the need to occasionally replace broken glassware, and the expense of keeping an experienced sommelier or wine steward on staff.
A good wine list will feature a number of choices that match well with the various entrees on the restaurant’s menu. It also should feature a range of prices.
The longer the list, the more daunting it can be for someone who is just getting into wine.
Here are four tips to help you make a selection that will delight your palate without depleting your wallet…
- Ask the sommelier, wine steward or server for advice. Someone on staff should be familiar with both the menu and the wine list, and know which wines pair nicely with which dishes. If your server doesn’t seem to be well informed, ask if there might be someone else who can help. In some cases, it might be the owner of the establishment.
- Tell the restaurant staffer about some of the wines you’ve enjoyed in the past. This will help them identify wine types and styles you’ll probably like. Also let them know about your price range.
- If you’d prefer to bring along your own special bottle, be sure to call ahead to see if the restaurant allows wine to be brought in. If so, ask about the corkage fee, and make sure the wine is not on the restaurant’s wine list. If a restaurant is willing to let customers bring their own wine, it should not be a wine that is on the list.
- When all else fails, follow this protocol: Determine the type of wine you want to have, and then order the second least-expensive bottle in that category from the restaurant’s list. Many restaurants include low-end bottlings in the various categories for those customers who read the list from right to left (i.e., price shoppers). But through the years, I’ve found that, in most cases, all the other wines in a given category are quite good — so there’s no need to order the most expensive bottle.