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  • Teresa Gomes

10 Tips for choosing wine at a restaurant

When it comes to ordering wine, there are a lot of options. You could order the cheapest bottle on the menu or you could order an expensive one (especially if you're being treated).


The important thing is to know what kind of wine you want so that you can communicate your desires properly with the waiter. In this article, I'll give you ten tips for ordering wine at a restaurant that will make buying your next bottle an enjoyable and easy choice.




Now that we're back to “eating out” I really had to share with you some of the tactics on how to pick wine in a restaurant.

Starting today, when you open a wine list, you'll no longer be afraid to order a bottle of wine. I'm very excited about this article, as I believe it will be very, very useful for you.


In many restaurants, when there is no Sommelier, we, as customers, are left abandoned when it comes to the choice of wines.

By this, I mean that it's not common in Portugal for a waiter to suggest a wine, or even food for that matter when delivering the menus. The waiter typically takes the order and only asks questions if anything was unclear.


You suffer mentally because you have to make a series of decisions - Starter? Main course? Fish? Beef? With potato or rice? Salad? One portion for each or do we share?

In addition to the other 3.8M decisions, you've already made that day.


Then you open the wine list and you find yourself paralyzed and wondering what to order… more decisions - White? Red? Single variety? Which region? A Portuguese red wine you've never heard of. Or do you play it safe and try to find a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chardonnay? Okay, now glass or bottle? Etc, etc...

So how to make the wine selection process painless?

Over the years I've developed some strategies. Some I learned in the worst way, by making mistakes and making some truly bad choices. If I can prevent the same thing from happening to you, then I'm happy to share.



#1 Do your homework

More and more now restaurants have websites with online menus and wine lists.

I like to try new places and since I have some dietary limitations I've gotten in the habit of looking for the menu before making my reservation.

I've also chosen plenty of restaurants just because of the wine list too!


So go to the website and take a look at the wines before heading out and select three or four that you would like to drink.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, you only have to ask if the harvest years are available if that's important to you.


#2 Choose a wine based on the style of restaurant

Having lunch at a seafood restaurant? On the way there you may start thinking about what kind of white or rosé wine you'd like to drink.

Now let's say you're headed to a Steakhouse, do the same and think about what red wines you might like to have.


Actually, it turns out that you're eating a traditional local restaurant with specific regional cuisine ... what wines from that same region do you like?


#3 Order an aperitif

Upon arriving at the restaurant, start by ordering a glass of wine, such as a sparkling wine, a very dry white or rosé, or even an Extra Dry white Port as an aperitif.

This will leave you more relaxed and with more time, to read and reread the wine list without the pressure of having to choose immediately.

You may even try a glass of wine that you like so much that you end up asking for a bottle of it.


#4 Explore new flavors, regions, grapes ...

Choosing wines from less popular regions is sometimes a pleasant surprise.

Usually, these wines are not requested often so you'll be able to drink an older harvest and in the end, you'll be “paying” for the wine and not so much for the brand or fame of the region.


It's also common in traditional Portuguese restaurants for some of these wines to be on the menu because they are friends or have family ties with the owner or manager of the restaurant. They're a real find!


#5 Ask for a suggestion

Still undecided on which wine to choose but all you know is that you want to drink a full bodied red wine and your date a light bodied - then ask the waiter for recommendations.

If they're not comfortable making any, then ask what the top two or three most ordered wines are that the restaurant sells.

Based on the answer, see which of the wines will suit your taste and which are of course within your budget.


#6 Oh the prices

Many restaurants still practice a margin of three or four times as much.

A wine you buy in the supermarket for €7 may well be €21 or €28 a bottle in a restaurant. That is, you pay three to four times more!

If you come across this situation, then it's up to you to decide whether or not you really want to drink wine there knowing this.


Perhaps take into consideration the occasion you may be celebrating, how much you really want to drink wine and if those Euros in any way match the quality of the wine service and restaurant category you're in.


#7 Choose a wine based on what you're going to eat

This recommendation of mine already requires an intermediate knowledge level of wine.

Select the wine based on what you want to eat - fish, steak, vegetarian. Weigh the acidity, tannins, and body of the wine with the protein, cooking method, and sauce of the dish.


#8 It's a celebration!

In these types of situations, it's always up to me to choose what's on trend. And ordering just one white and one red for everyone would be a big blunder on my part!


Ask each guest beforehand what their preferences are and based on that order several different bottles of wine. Most guests, on average, will drink half a bottle of wine. With a variety of wines on offer, most guests if not all, will end up drinking a wine that they really like.


#9 Use your Smartphone

You'll probably need it to access the wine List, but here my suggestions in researching wine online.

I typically check the residual sugar in rosé wines, because I've learned in some unfortunate ways that asking the server if the wine is dry or sweet - doesn't help.

I also on occasion check the grape varieties and the aging time in wood in order to adapt the choice to the occasion.


# 10 Ask to see the bottles

I do this regularly. Or I volunteer to go over to where the wine is stored to see them for myself.

Sometimes the names alone tell me nothing about the wine. But because I have a better photographic memory, when I see a label, I recognize the wine, and I also can check the year of the harvest.

It's also happened where I've seen a bottle that wasn't on the wine list (lack of updating) and to be pleasantly surprised with what I find.


The next time you go to a restaurant without a Sommelier or waiter without knowledge about wines, you'll be equipped with my handy ten tactics to choose the perfect bottle of wine even before the bread basket arrives at the table.


What tip are you going to put into practice on your next dinner out? Let me know in the comments below.

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