How to order wine in a restaurant — three simple rules
Restaurant wine lists can be extremely confusing with long lists of wines that you know nothing about — in fact, many of the wines you cannot even pronounce. When the waiter comes to offer assistance, you realize that he or she does not know anymore about the wine list than you do. At this point, what do you do? If you happen to be dining at a restaurant that uses a progressive wine list, you may be able to gracefully find a way out of this situation all by yourself. Progressive wine lists are arranged in a specific way, making it easier to know something about the wines on the list without tasting it yourself.
First of all, the wines on a progressive wine list are grouped by varietal. So all the wines made mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon are listed together, Chardonnays are listed together, and so on. Within each type of wine, the wines at the top of the list have the lightest body. As you go down the list, the wines become more full bodied and generally more expensive. Adding body to wine costs money.
Knowing how progressive wine lists are constructed allows you to apply a few simple rules to select a wine for your meal.
The first rule for selecting a wine is “do not pay more than you can afford”. Setting a price limit tells you how far down the list you should look and can help prevent the mood or the cocktail you had before dinner from enticing you to order a more expensive bottle.
The second rule for selecting a wine is “select your meal first”. You want the wine to go with dinner. If you order a big red wine and then decide the fillet of sole sounds best, you may find that you don’t like the two together.
The third and final rule for selecting a wine is “pair full bodied wines with heavy food and light bodied wines with lighter foods”. For example, oysters on the half-shell go very well with Sancerre. The oysters are light bodied, briny, and perhaps a little sweet, and the Sancerre is a light bodied wine with plenty of acid to go with the briny oyster.
If you want beef, it depends on the cut and how it is cooked. A grilled ribeye is a heavy meal, and it needs a full bodied wine such as an American Cab, or a young Chateauneuf du Pape. If on the other hand you are having a hamburger (typically not as “heavy” or fatty as a grilled ribeye), the big red might be too much and you should go for a medium to medium-full bodied Zinfandel, for example.
Chicken also depends on how it is cooked. For example, roast chicken can go with either a medium-full bodied white wine such as a Viongnier or a medium bodied Pinot Noir. Chicken Piccata, which is often lighter than roast chicken, would pair well with a Souave which are typically medium-light bodied white wines.
So next time you are confronted with a monster wine list, look to see how it is arranged. If it is a progressive wine list, try these simple rules and see how they work. Of course there are lots of others things to consider when selecting wine, but you have to start somewhere. Let us know how the rules work for you.
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