Erik Neilson on June 30, 2016 2 Comments There are few things more enjoyable than stumbling upon the perfect pairing between wine and food. It’s one of the best parts about dining out, and the right bottle or glass of wine can indeed take practically any meal to entirely new heights. One of the biggest points of confusion when it comes time to ordering wine at a restaurant, however, comes down to understanding how to navigate the wine list. Ordering from a wine list can range in difficulty from being exceptionally straightforward to more challenging than it should ever have to be. It all depends upon the establishment, the complexity of the list and the types of wine being highlighted. At the end of the day, however, there are a few consistencies between the majority of wine lists that you’re likely to encounter at restaurants throughout the world, and the sooner you can internalize them, the easier it will be to order no matter where it is you’re dining. Ready to learn how to navigate a wine list like a pro? Here are just a few tips to point you in the right direction. 1. Start Light Have you ever kicked a meal off with a bold glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, only to find that you’ve all but completely ruined your appetite? It’s a common mistake made by those who believe they truly only enjoy drinking rich red wines, and one that is best dealt with before the meal begins. Ordering a heavy glass of wine won’t do anything but make the meal hard to get through, and since most chefs serve light courses at the beginning of the meal, you’ll be dealing with a wine and food pairing that simply doesn’t work. In the vast majority of scenarios, the best option when choosing wines to start a meal off with is to stick with something light, crisp and refreshing — perhaps even sparkling. 2. Avoid “By the Glass” Wines if Possible There’s certainly a convenience factor that comes along with being able to order a glass of wine while dining out as opposed to purchasing an entire bottle. This is especially true for those who dine alone often, in which case ordering an entire bottle would typically be considered excessive. If you’re accompanied by dining partners, however, you may want to consider purchasing a bottle vs. a “by the glass” option — especially if you’re all interested in drinking similar wines. You’ll not only save quite a bit of money (price points for wines by the glass tend to be high), but you’ll also guarantee yourself a better wine, as most offerings available by the glass tend to be less than stellar. 3. Follow Tasting Notes For those who aren’t entirely familiar with the wine world, deciphering which glass to order from a list of mysterious-sounding grape names can be an anxiety-producing exercise. You don’t have to succumb to the confusion often associated with grape names, however, as most modern wine lists will feature tasting notes for each offering. By using these as guidelines for what you currently feel in the mood to drink, you’ll be far less likely to order something you’re not going to enjoy than if you were to rely on chance. If there are no tasting notes listed on the menu, you’re not quite out of luck. Ask your server to explain the nuances of each wine you’re interested in, and don’t hesitate to talk about which dishes they’ll pair best with. 4. Let Your Food Be Your Guide When most people prepare to order a glass of wine, they look over the list and choose what sounds most appealing to them as a drink in that particular moment. What often goes overlooked, however, is that the wine you order alongside a meal must complement the food properly. If the pairing doesn’t work, both the wine and the food being eaten will suffer as a result. Don’t order the Vinho Verde, for example, if you’re planning on sinking your teeth into a rich, unctuous lamb shank. Ideally, choose wines that are versatile to stand up to multiple different courses so that you don’t have to order different varietals throughout the meal. 5. Be Aware of Markups Have you ever been tempted to order the most expensive bottle of wine on the list? If so, you’re not alone. Ordering based solely upon price point is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make, however, especially considering the fact that markups on bottles at restaurants can be somewhere along the lines of 300%. More often than not, you can expect to encounter a similar range of quality in mid-priced bottles as you’ll find in the highest-priced on the list — many people won’t even be able to tell the difference between a $40 bottle and a $200 bottle. Save your money and splurge at home! 6. Swallow Your Pride Everyone wants to be able to navigate a wine list without help, but in the end, the most important thing to focus on is ordering the right glass or bottle. Sometimes, it’s easiest to enlist the help of a professional who can guide you through the ordering process, and if you’re lucky enough to have the chance to work with a sommelier, you should take advantage of the opportunity. Sommeliers are trained specifically to help diners choose the perfect wine for pairing with food, and in many restaurants, they’re the driving force behind the wines that have made the list in the first place. If you have a question and the only thing that’s holding you back from asking it is your pride, you’ll do best to swallow it and work with the somm to find the right wine for you. The next time you sit down to order a glass or a bottle of wine, don’t let the list intimidate you. It can take experience to order from certain wine lists, but just remember that no list is too confusing to choose a great wine from. Order with confidence, and enjoy the meal.