Have you ever been at a restaurant, wine list in hand, feeling lost? “I want to try this one, but I don’t know how to pronounce it… This one sounds nice, but will it go well with my food? Will my dinner guests judge me if I go for a cheaper wine? Do we want glasses or a bottle?” It can be overwhelming and quite confusing. So how do you get the balance right? Ordering a tasteful wine that’s in your price range and will impress your guests. We’re here to help. Rather than falling back on your usual drink order after feeling too embarrassed to try ordering wine, we want to equip you with the tools to be able to confidently order wine at a restaurant.
There are a few things you need to be aware of before we get to how to order. We’ll share advice on how wine lists, waiters and restaurants operate so you’re able to understand the wider world of wine.
Price mark ups
There’s no denying that restaurants have huge price mark ups. You’re probably paying at least triple the wholesale price they paid for it. Glasses of the house wine cost as much as the whole bottle itself. Seriously, stay away from house wines unless you’re on a tight budget or can stand cheap bland wine.
The second cheapest bottle of wine on the list is often the one that has been marked up the most. They know you want a cheap option, but don’t want to look like a complete cheapskate by choosing the cheapest bottle on the list.
Bottle or glass
If you’re wanting a variety, or have guests that have opposing wine tastes, it’s best to choose glasses so you’re not wasting money on a bottle that won’t be consumed. However, if you know that three or so glasses will be enjoyed- then go for a bottle.
Food and wine pairing
If you want to be sure you’re getting the most out of the wine you’re choosing, make sure you decide on your food before ordering the wine. That way, you can ask for suggestions on the right wine flavours to pair with your meal.
Now that you’re a little more aware of wine in a restaurant setting, we can get to how to order it.
Here’s our guide to ordering wine at a restaurant:
Ask your guests
After you’ve been seated, have a quick discussion with whoever else is at the table to determine whether or not to choose a glass or a bottle, and to know their taste preferences (red/white wine). This will make ordering much easier.
Set a price limit
Before the pressure of the server/waiter, you should set a price limit on how much you’d like to spend on wine. Don’t be tempted to lift this after seeing the average bottle price.
Utilise the Server
Don’t be afraid to ask the server, they don’t expect everyone ordering to be wine experts, so don’t feel pressured. Once you’ve decided on a few things with your dinner companions, you can ask questions to determine the right bottle (or glass) of wine to accompany your meal.
Things you need to consider before asking the server for wine suggestions:
- Red or white
- New World (fruit-forward) or Old World (earthy)
- The “body” of the wine, which refers to its mouth-feel in terms of weight and thickness. There are three options here: light-bodied (e.g., skim milk), medium-bodied (e.g., whole milk), and full-bodied (e.g., cream).
- Price point
Once you’ve got an idea on these points, you can get guidance from the person serving you, without wasting their time while you stare at your partner waiting for them to decide.
Sample the wine
After you’ve decided on a bottle (if you’re choosing that over a glass), the server will open the wine and pour a sample for you to taste. Let’s make one thing clear. This sample isn’t for you to decide whether you like it or not, once you’ve chosen that bottle, and it’s been opened by the server, you’re paying for it (unless of course it’s tainted by cork- but that’s pretty rare). Give the glass a few swirls, a deep sniff and a taste.
Relax in your seat, sip on your wine and enjoy! Enjoy the wine at your own pace, don’t worry about the server hovering offering to top up your wine- they’re just trying to do their jobs. Or trying to get you to finish the bottle faster in hopes that you’ll buy another. Either way, it’s your time, enjoy it.
Another good suggestion on knowing how to order wine means knowing what regions the wines you’re ordering originate from. Knowing the different wine regions, and which regions produce certain types of wine, will fast track you to becoming a wine expert in no time.
Take a look at this video which talks about wines from different wineries around Australia.
- Produces a rich Shiraz, deeply flavoured with fruit and spice characteristics
- Shiraz is good for steaks, barbecued meats and cheese.
- Produces Rieslings with lemon, lime, apple and pear flavours.
- Rieslings are good for seafood and shellfish dishes, Thai and Chinese cuisine.
- Produces the fruit driven Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Cabernet Sauvignon is best paired with lamb, beef, pasta with rich sauces and cheese boards.
- Produces Sauvignon Blanc with grassy, green and herbal flavours.
- Good for Asian and Indian cuisine, seafood and appetisers.
- Produces Chardonnay ranging from fresh citrus, green apple to peach flavours.
- Chardonnay is good with chicken, pork, fish and pasta with creamy sauces.
An important note is to not get too caught up in the technicalities and ‘rules’ of pairing food and wine, if you enjoy a particular wine and nothing else, by all means, choose something you’ll know that you will enjoy. While trying new options is always interesting, don’t spend too much time thinking about what you should be eating, and which wine should match.