How to Choose the Right Wine at a Restaurant

One of the best parts of a night out is stumbling upon the perfect food and wine pairing. But the sheer variety of options on a wine menu is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Whether a trip to your favourite steakhouse is a rare treat or a regular occurrence, ordering wine can be as stressful as settling a hefty bill. This is especially true when the menu is several pages long with no helpful descriptors.

But there’s no need to dread the wine. With just a bit of general knowledge, even a complete novice can navigate a wine menu like a pro. Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.

Get Familiar with Wine Terms

The long list of wine terms could probably fill up a dictionary, but there are a few you should learn before paging through a wine menu.

  • Tannins: Compounds found in grape seeds, skin, and stems. Tannins will make wine taste ‘astringent and dry’
  • Varietal: The type of grape used to make a particular wine
  • Terroir: How environmental factors like soil and climate affect the taste of your wine
  • Oaky: A popular descriptor for wine that has wood undertones
  • Bouquet: A wine’s aroma
  • Dry: Dry wines have little to no residual sugar content and are generally not sweet
  • Light-bodied: Wine that has less than 12.5% alcohol. Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Barbera are a few examples
  • Full-bodied: Any wine that has more than 13.5% alcohol. These wines go well with a steak
  • Finish: The aftertaste of wine

Know the Best Beginner Wines

If you’re not too familiar with wine, it’s best not to get attached to a particular grape varietal. Order a Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris if you want to experiment with white wine or a Grenache if you want to try a red.

Learn the Basics of Wine and Food Pairing

Bolder wines generally go best with heavier meals, whereas lighter-bodied wines pair perfectly with fish and pasta dishes. If there’s steak on your plate, there should be a Petite Sirah or Cabernet Sauvignon in your glass. A red sauce pasta calls for a bottle of Pinot Noir or Merlot, while a fine fish dish is generally enjoyed with a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Order by the Glass

Deciding whether to order a few glasses or an entire bottle can be tricky. Ordering by the glass is a lot less limiting. If you’re dining with someone else, your date may have a totally different preference than you, so ordering by the glass is the reasonable option. Ordering by the glass also allows you to have one kind of wine with an appetiser and a totally different wine when the main course arrives.

Know How to Communicate Your Preferences

Roping in your waitron is the best way to choose the right wine. There’s no need to get too technical. Just try to communicate as much as possible. It helps to come prepared with a basic descriptor of what you want, from ‘light and fruity white wine’ to ‘dark and earthy red wine.’

Choosing the right wine isn’t a walk in the park, but it’s also not rocket science. Whether you’re a novice or a connoisseur, it always helps to have a guideline to steer you in the right direction.