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The Restaurant Wine List

Smart wine lovers often order a more expensive wine (presumably a better quality wine) for their first glass than they will for subsequent wine consumption with or without food.

In a restaurant, presentation of a wine list starts the process of selling wine and helping you enhance your dining experience with great wine and food pairings. If a reservation was made for the group of diners, the wine list is usually given to the person who made the reservation. This is especially true of business meals. When no reservation has been made, it is best for the wait staff to bring the list to the table and give it to whoever seems the most interested. The practice of presenting the list to the male of a male-female dining pair is out-of-date. In fact in retail wine stores and grocery stores where wine is sold, 80% of wine is sold to females. Women are more likely to be wine drinkers than men.

So don’t be afraid to ask for wine lists for anyone at the table who wants to look at all the choices. This is especially true as people are more and more knowledgeable about wine. You let everyone choose the foods they want to eat, why not let them choose glasses of wine or even bottles of wine that they wish to drink with their meal. A good wait staff person will offer wine lists to everyone at the table

If you haven’t had your 2-4 fruit servings today, may I suggest a nice Chateau St Jean?

Good wait staff should voluntarily explain the different sections of the wine list and also explain any wine-by-the-glass section. If there is interest in the by-the-glass list, they should give everyone who looks interested and mention the advantages of pairing wine with a food choice. If they don’t do this, remember this when leaving their tip for service.

Everyone does not have to have the same wine especially when they order different appetizers, entrees and sides. For example, pairing a glass of a sparkling, white or rosé wine with an appetizer course and a white, rosé or red wine with an entrée may be better on your budget than buying by the bottle. Most by-the-glass pricing is about 1/4th of a bottle price and if a 6 ounce pour is given, there really is not much of a savings when ordering a full bottle.

I usually look at the wine list for a familiar wine that I’ve had before and know the retail price. This gives me an idea of how much the restaurant is marking up their wines. Since many retail wine stores have a markup of about 20-40% for single bottles (unless they are on special sale), I look to see the restaurant menu price to gauge what percent markup is likely being applied. If I feel the restaurant is marking up wine excessively, I will either bring my own wine and pay corkage the next time, or if bringing your own wine is not allowed, I will not return to the restaurant.

If you are not sure about a given wine on the list, point to a wine that is in the approximate price range you are willing to pay. Ask the restaurant staff if they would recommend it. Wine lists with very expensive wines can be intimidating and this is your way of showing your wine budget.

While wine and food pairings are covered elsewhere on this site, suffice it to say that the wine server should have a good idea of what wine-by-the-glass pairs the best with different appetizers and entrees on the menu.