Don’t Panic: Tips for Ordering Wine in a Restaurant
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Don’t Panic: Tips for Ordering Wine in a Restaurant

Wine is a vast world of different grapes, regions, and producers. Even an expert can’t know everything about everything. But being a wine professional does give the great advantage of being able to navigate a wine list, whether it be one page or one hundred pages. Many of my friends and family feel utterly intimidated by the idea of trying to order wine in a restaurant, especially the nicer the restaurant gets. If you’re just a casual drinker and don’t even know where to begin on a wine list, as a former sommelier I am here to tell you: Don’t panic, we are there to help. We’ve all been in the situation of having a server try to upsell you or somehow make you feel like a jerk for ordering a more value driven wine. These types of servers are inevitable, but I promise any good server or sommelier’s main goal will be to get you the wine you want. The best way to help them make that happen is easy: simple communication. Here are a few tips for ordering wine in a restaurant to help make sure you get what you want.

1. Tell them what you like to drink! Not everybody has the same vocabulary for wine. Fruity for you might be sweet for someone else. What might be tannic to you, could be mild for somebody else. Tell them what you like to drink, whether it’s a grape or a region. That’s the easiest way for us to start coming up with recommendations. And tell them if you want exactly that or if you would like something new that would be similar. Nothing is more challenging for us than trying to pick a wine off of a list for someone with no parallels drawn.

2. Don’t be afraid to discuss price with us. Wine lists can be vast, and we need all of the help we can get to narrow it down for you. If you don’t want to spend more than $100, great! You just gave me a much easier range to work with, I certainly won’t judge you for it. If you’re in a situation where you do feel the need to be discreet there a couple of things you can do. When whoever is taking care of you asks about wine you can point to a wine in your price range and ask them their thoughts or for similar recommendations. Most sommeliers will take that queue. Another good opportunity to make price point clear is to ask for a couple of recommendations of a certain type and point to the one that fits your price range.

3. Don’t feel awkward when the server pours you a taste, it’s just part of the song and dance! There is a lot of ceremony behind proper wine service and though it can feel intimidating, it’s really not a big deal. A common misconception is that when we pour you a taste it’s for you to confirm that you like the wine. It. Is. Not. It’s to make sure the wine is okay. This is why many restaurants open the wine away from the table so that the sommelier can check the wine; most casual drinkers have no idea what a corked or oxidized wine smells like. Feel comfortable that in a good restaurant that wine is not making it to the table if it’s in bad shape. Take the glass, give it a whiff and make sure it smells sound to you. Cheers you can start drinking.

Wine service can certainly feel overly formal, and there have been many strides to modernize it and make it more comfortable. But many aspects of the ceremony exist for a good reason. And remember, many of the sommeliers you’ll come across are training for exams and those exams use strictly formal service. Enjoy watching them try to perfect their craft and marvel that you may be watching the next Master Sommelier at work!


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