Today, most restaurants have a wine list. I don’t care if it’s a five star restaurant with a sommelier, or your local neighborhood Italian place. Knowing how a wine list is laid out will help demystify it, and that can make ordering less stressful, and your meal more enjoyable.
What To Consider:
1) Decide what type of wine you want. Most wine lists are organized according to color, style and price. For example you will find the headings for Red (Rouge) Wines, White (Blanc) Wines, Rosé, Champagne/Sparkling, and Dessert with the driest offerings usually located directly under the heading and the sweetest toward the end of the list. If bin numbers are listed, refer to them when ordering to assist the server in locating the correct bottle. Most listings will be by bin number, wine name, winery or producers name, possibly country or region grown, and vintage (year harvested), if applicable.
2) Will you be ordering a glass, a half-carafe, full carafe, or a bottle? To break this down: a glass is usually about 5 ounces, a half-carafe and carafe are determined by the size of glass container the restaurant uses, so ask your sever how many glasses are in each. A bottle is made up of 750ml or roughly 4 generous glasses of wine (or 5 stingy pours). Check to see if the wine you are interested in is available by the glass. Many are sold only by the carafe or bottle.
3) Have your price point in mind before perusing the wine list. Prices are usually listed on the right side of the list. There may be “by the glass” prices and “by the bottle” prices. Ordering wine that matches the cuisine is usually a good bet - if you are eating at an Italian restaurant, the Italian wines will probably be the better values.
4) Can’t decide? Ask your wait staff for a recommendation. (If there is a sommelier, even better.) To assist them in helping you, let them know what types of wine you and your tablemate(s) like, what you are planning to eat, and what your price-range is.
5) Order by the bin number, winemaker’s or producer’s name, varietal and year. For example: "Number 24, the Robert Mondavi Cabernet, 2009." Avoid pointing – it can lead to a surprise bottle, and price.
Check and see if the restaurant’s wine list is on the web site. If so, you can do your research and have an idea of what you want before you get there.
And one final note, when the wine is delivered to your table, take the time to make sure this is the bottle you ordered. The waiter will present the bottle for your inspection – so do just that; read the name on the label, check the vintage date, and when a taste is poured, make sure to approve it or speak up if there is a problem. It can save you from embarrassment, and possibly paying more money later on in the evening. Enjoy!