Interest in drinking and learning about wine is steadily gaining ground as more and more people discover the splendid pleasure of what even a decent glass of table wine can bring to the dining experience. When ordering wines in a restaurant there are a couple of things to keep in mind such as the environment in which you are dining as well as what you plan to order.
In most cases it is more expensive to order by the glass than to order by the bottle so if you are dining with another person and you think you will each have at least two glasses you may want to order a bottle. When dining in larger parties you can expect one bottle to serve four to five people.
If you are dining in a large chain restaurant such as Applebee’s or Bennigan’s don’t expect much from the wine list. Likewise, if you are dining in a barbeque joint or sports themed bar-slash-restaurant, don’t expect much variety in your wine choices. However, if you enjoy wine, a restaurant where the options are one each of red, white or pink may not be the place for you, unless of course you choose to bring your own.
Temperature and storage are a factor so when you arrive at a restaurant if you can see the wines stored out at room temperature or near heat generating equipment you may not want to order any. Wine should be kept at a consistent temperature in a cool place and the bottles stored on their sides. Smaller places will not necessarily observe these rules so bringing in your own and paying the cork fee may be your best bet.
The more upscale you go in dining the more varied and extensive, not to mention expensive your wine choices will be. A nice decor and great atmosphere doesn’t automatically equate to a knowledgeable staff however, so when ordering your wine you will want to choose your varietal based on the kind of flavor profile you prefer.
Some people with little experience in wine drinking prefer sweeter wines like Riesling and White Zinfandel while others merely prefer what they are used to whether it be sweet or dry and likely stick to the wider known varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot. These are usually safe choices in general, which is why they are almost always found among the choices on the average menu regardless of the size of the restaurant or the style of the cuisine being offered.
It is also helpful to understand a bit about wine descriptive terms. A dry wine is one that does not have a suggestion of sweetness to it whereas a sweet a wine doesn’t necessarily mean it will taste sugary. These terms help to distinguish the fruit forwardness of the wine to help you know what to expect. Wine is, after all, fermented fruit juice so it should taste like fruit but be not the same kind of sweet as a glass of Welch’s. If you see the words “late harvest” in a wine’s description it is more than likely going to be sweeter and if you see the words bone dry know that you will more than likely need food with the wine to enjoy it.
In the modern world of web pages and fax machines you can often see the menu and even the wine list before you go out to dine so if making an informed choice is important to you check out the offerings at your intended dining spot ahead of time and look around online to see what others have had to say about the wines that look interesting to you.
Some restaurants are clever enough to list wine suggestions next to the food items on their menus to help you in your selections and many establishments will even allow you to taste a small sample of a wine in advance of ordering it to help you make your decision.
If you are able to see a menu ahead of time you can look at the wine list and read up about the wines and see which ones look interesting to you and what the wine tasting notes suggest for pairing them with food. This will help you to make a more informed decision when you arrive at the restaurant.
Even if your server is not knowledgeable about the wines offered (it happens quite often) you can still stick to the basic varietals and more than likely choose well for your meal. White wine generally compliments lighter dishes while many people prefer hearty red wines with meat dishes.
Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay are usually safe choices the compliment many foods as well as Cabernet and Pinot Noir. A sweeter wine such as Reisling can compliment a spicy Indian or Thai dish, while a lightweight red such as Barbera D’Asti would be a good accompaniment for pasta.
The rules for wine and food pairing are not absolute and many recommendations are not helpful to vegans and vegetarians so it is a good idea to experiment on your own before going to a restaurant. Also some reds are perfectly fine to have with seafood dishes such as paella. Ultimately, it is your own personal preference that matters. Once you know what you like you will have a better handle on what to order when dining out.