How to choose a bottle of wine in a restaurant


When you're handed the wine list at a restaurant, are you seized with panic, afraid you'll order the wrong bottle? Ray Isle, Senior Wine Editor at Food and Wine magazine shares his tips for how to order wine from a wine list.

How to choose a bottle of wine in a restaurant

Some people say that you get the best wine by choosing the bottle that’s second from the bottom of the list, but that's not true. In a good restaurant with a good list, the sommelier will stand behind all of them. Here are some tips for choosing wine at a restaurant .

  • Ask the sommelier, the server or whoever buys the wine for the restaurant for a recommendation.
  • Watch out for older vintages of white wine. White wines can age, but they’re really meant to be drunk now. You want to choose white wines of recent vintage.
  • Watch out for the famous names and the famous grapes. You’ll pay more for cabernet sauvignon from Napa than if you buy a merlot from Chile, or even a syrah from Napa. The premiere grapes from premiere regions are always marked up the most.
  • Ray's go-to wines are pinot noir for red wine and dry Riesling for white wine-- not sweet Riesling. Both pinot noir and dry Riesling pair beautifully with all kinds of food.

Hi I'm Ray Isles from Food and Wine magazine, senior wine editor and I'm here to talk about how to order wine off a restaurant wine list and get a great deal at the same time.

There are a couple of key things to know about ordering wine off a restaurant wine list. One of the first is that there's a tried and true old rule, you get the best value is you order the second wine from the bottom of the list. It's not true. It doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. If you're in a good restaurant with a good list, then the sommelier will stand by every single one on that list.

First off, ask the sommelier or ask the wine buyer. Ask the server if the server seems to know what they're doing. Those people know the wines and they'll suggest foods and wines that go well with the food you are ordering.

Second thing to do, watch out for older vintages of white wine. Generally speaking white wines can age, but the majority of wines in a restaurant are there for drinking now and you want white wines that are of a recent vintage.

Third tip to think about: watch out for the famous names and watch out for the famous grape. You're going to pay more if you buy cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley than if you buy, let's say, a merlot from Chile. Or even if you buy a syrah from Napa Valley. Pretty much the premier grapes in the premier regions are always an up-charge on a restaurant wine list.

Finally, one thing to think about is not so much maximizing your cash-flow question, but maximizing your eating experience. My two go-to grapes for food pairing are pinot noir for red wines. Pinot noir goes great with almost everything. It's a perfect fall-back grape if you have any questions about what to get. And for white wines actually dry Reisling, not a sweet Reisling, but a dry Reisling is one of the most adaptable food-wine pairing grapes around.

So those are my tips for how to maximize your wine buying experience at a restaurant. I'm Ray Isles, senior wine editor for Food and Wine magazine for howdini. Thanks.

meet theexpert
  • Ray Isle

    Ray Isle Senior Wine Editor, Food & Wine Ray Isle speaks regularly on wine and wine-related subjects at live events, and has been a guest on national media outlets. more about this expert »

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