A GUIDE TO ORDERING WINE IN A RESTAURANT
When I first learned that wine could actually be a compliment to food I was still at the “beginner” phase of knowing my wines. I drank blush wines, yes the horrific white zinfandel was my favorite wine, and unless it was sweet I didn’t even touch it. To put myself through college I began serving at an upscale Italian restaurant. It was there that my appreciation for wine flourished as every week an expert came in to give us a wine tasting and tell us what foods the specific wine went with.
When you initially sit down to dinner in a restaurant the first thing that goes through your mind is probably choices, choices. The first mistake people make is to look at the wine list and order a bottle or a glass they plan on drinking through dinner before they pick out their entre. The next mistake guests make is assuming that the most expensive wine on the list is the best wine. True that as a general rule the higher the price of the wine the better it is supposed to be but it may not be the best for you and it may not even taste that good at all. Many wines on the list are wines that you have never even heard of. Depending on the restaurant wines may be specifically intended for the restaurant’s theme or if it’s a private restaurant many of the wines could be local.
While working at an Italian restaurant, I learned that a good starter glass of wine before dinner or even with salad is Persecco. Persecco is like champagne in that it is carbonated but it is considered a semi-dry white wine. It is very crisp and it can vary from extra dry to semi-sweet. This works for when you first sit down for a refreshing starter while you ponder what you actually want for dinner or even while you’re munching on a salad. In general this rule works for any white wine. In countries where it is unheard of having dinner without wine, white wine is simply considered a starter (kind of like our water) and during dinner the guests move onto a heartier red. I have also found that when you first sit down, if Persecco is not to your taste, it’s a great time to have a cocktail such as a good martini.
Now comes the tricky part. After you pick your food you have to decide if white or red would go better , do you want something sweet or dry, heavy or light, fruity or spicy, and all while still keeping your personal taste in mind. For the extreme beginner a good rule to stick by is color. If the sauce is red or you’re ordering a red meat go with red wine. If the sauce is white or the meat is white, chicken or fish for example, then go with a white wine. There are also wines, extremely sweet, known as dessert wines. They are called this for a reason so save them for after dinner either with your dessert or as your dessert. And for God’s sake stay away from white zinfandel; it’s what I call a wine cooler in a wine bottle.
After choosing what you are going to have for dinner, now pick your wine. This is where your taste comes in. Whites usually consist of pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and riesling, with riesling being the sweetest next to white zinfandel. Your reds consist of merlots, cabernets, pinot noir, chianti, and my favorite red zinfandel. Since wines will vary in taste depending on the company or private vineyard that makes them; ask your server if you have any questions, even if they don’t know they can always ask the bartender.
No matter what restaurant you find yourself ordering wine in the server is always taught that the customers’ needs come first. Trust me, I know from experience, that server wants you to purchase a glass or bottle of wine. Many times if it comes down to two types of wine that you’re just not sure which one you would like better you can ask your server if you may sample the two. The server will bring you a small sip and you can decide which one tastes better before ordering. Then depending on how many people you have at the table and how many people like the same wine you can decide whether to order a glass or bottle.
There are about four glasses to a bottle on average. If you can manage, buying wine by the bottle at a restaurant is generally cheaper and you will also have a fuller glass. (When you get a glass at a restaurant and it looks like you got gypped it’s because a standard pour at a restaurant is between 6-8 oz.) Also in some states such as New York it is legal for your server to recork your wine bottle and you can take what you don’t finish home with you. Be sure to ask your server if this rule applies to whichever state you are in. Wine service is traditionally the same wherever you go. The server will present your bottle to make sure this is the wine you ordered, after you confirm they will commence to open the bottle, if the cork is broken in the process the server should get a new bottle. Now the server will pour a small amount of wine into the “host’s” glass, which is the person who ordered the wine unless otherwise specified and the host will taste the wine. If for some reason the host is not satisfied or feels the wine has gone bad your server will bring you a new bottle. Oh, and here’s a tip. Your server will lay the cork down beside the host. Many people considering themselves wine connoisseurs will smell the cork because they say you can tell if the wine has gone bad. You can not tell if the wine is good or bad from the cork. If bottles are laid on their sides while they mature this can lead to fermenting of the cork but trust me the wine is still good.
The best advice is don’t be scared to ask questions if you aren’t sure. Your server is there to help you and usually they have tried the wines or at least know which wines are best paired with certain foods.