There’s this massive stigma around ‘choosing wine at a restaurant’, but there really shouldn’t be. At the end of the day, with a little common sense, it’s actually super easy to pick out a lovely wine to give with your food.
We don’t need to be wine experts; all we need is to not be afraid.
Below you’ll see three of the most frequently observed hurdles I’ve come across which ultimately should help you enjoy your restaurant experience that little bit more!
Choosing the second cheapest so you don’t look like a cheapskate
Some restaurants can be very smart – they recognise that you don’t want to appear like a complete cheapskate and in doing so will order the second cheapest bottle of wine on the menu.
What you don’t know is given they are blatantly aware of this psychological habit, it’s the second cheapest bottle that often has the highest mark-up and is also the cheapest wine they buy. In most cases, you’re better off buying the house wine.
Price is an important factor, there’s no denying that, but if you’re not counting the cents then splash out an extra couple of rands and there will be a hell of a lot more to choose from, some of which will be ideal for the food you’ve ordered.
You don't have to spend a ton of money to speak to a sommelier
Everyone has a budget, some have more to play with, others have less, either way there’s no shame in not buying a £50+ bottle of wine every time you dine out.
When a Sommelier is available you should always take advantage of the situation as it will completely elevate the evening. These guys and gals’ world revolves around producing the best possible wine experience for their customers and you can be sure they will look after you.
Be upfront and tell them what you’re looking to spend, explain what you want to eat and what you typically enjoy drinking, (even give them some tasting notes to go off) – chances are you will walk away a very happy customer.
In my experience, I’ve never met a sommelier who has looked down on me based on what I’m spending. In the unlikely instance that you do find this then make sure you get a business card for the GM at the end of the meal and make a complaint, sommeliers do a fantastic job and the mind-set of a minority shouldn’t affect the majority.
Choosing a wine because it’s the only grape you know
We've all been a little guilty of this before: you choose the wine on the list that you're most comfortable with, simply because you're most familiar with the grape variety. However the important thing to ensure is that the food you've just spent money on is going to compliment the wine as well. If you've just ordered the steamed salmon with asparagus then a Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa may not be the best choice.
Never be afraid to ask the waiter (or sommelier when available) what they think would work best. If they look confident in their choice then follow their advice, if they hesitate for a minute while trying to produce some story in their mind – the ball’s back in your court.
You may want to appear like you know what you’re talking about to impress, but ordering a wine just because that’s what you drink at home doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to go best with the food you’re ordering – you may be disappointed. Explore. Be brave. Spread your vino-wings.