How to Pick the Best Wine at a Restaurant (Without Overpaying)

By Paulo Vega

February 11, 2016   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

We’ve all been there…

You engage in a few minutes of small talk with the rest of the table. A couple of bread baskets later, it’s time to get this party started.

The waiter looks straight at you… and blurts out those much anticipated – yet – most frightening words:

“What wine would you like to order, sir?”

You take a deep breath. The next few words have great power. What you say directly affects the outcome of your entire experience. You frantically look at the menu… trying to make sense of the dozens of options (and prices).

If only there was some easier way to choose mind-blowing wine (without paying more than you have to).

Not to worry! Just follow these 12 tips to order flawlessly every time. It’s guaranteed to make your lunch (or dinner) that much better.

1- Reasearch the Wine List (Before You Go)

Today, almost every restaurant has a website… so be sure to check the wine list online. If it’s not available, just drop them an email (or call) requesting their wine selection. A little preparation goes a long way.

2- Pick Your Food First

Before you chose your wine, you should know what kind of food you want. Will it be light or heavy? What kind of meat? What kind of sauce? These are all questions that will affect your choice. A proper wine pairing makes all the difference.

3- Be Extra Nice to Your Sommelier

Try to establish some rapport with your Sommelier. Be sincerely interested to connect with him by asking a little about his background. This way, he’ll be more likely to suggest a great choice. Consider him your most important ally… and treat him as such.

4- And Ask Him the RIGHT Questions

This is the perfect time to extract some valuable information. Here are a three CRUCIAL questions you can ask:
What is his favorite wine?
What wine has the best cost/benefit i.e., bang for the buck?
Which wine is most frequently ordered?

5- Tip Your Sommelier

This is a somewhat tricky (and advanced) technique. This needs to be done discretely and with confidence. Usually, a firm handshake in which you pass him the cash and give a slight nod will do the trick. Next time, he will be much more inclined to find you a great deal!

6- Use an App

What if there was an app where thousands of enthusiastic wine drinkers (like yourself) were able to rate all types of wine from all over the world? Well, there is, and its called Vivino. Just scan the label… and get reviews, price and more super helpful information.

7- Ask Somebody Who is (More) Knowledgeable at your Table

Chances are that there is somebody who knows his wine. Ask if he/she would like to suggest a wine? If you think this seems like a cop out, you’re right! But, remember, this way you will share the responsibility (and the risks associated with it).

8- Render a Quick Table Poll

The best way to pick a successful wine is asking what people like.
Red or White? Dry or smooth? Fruity or woody? These general guidelines will help you (at least) please some of your guests. They’ll also feel that they were involved in the process and will be more likely to be happy with their choice.

9- Ask for a Discount

Maybe the restaurant is renovating its selections. Maybe there is a wine on the brink of going bad. A little asking (and negotiating) never hurt anybody.
Disclaimer: This is not for the faint of heart. Depending on who is joining you for lunch/dinner, this may be kind of frowned upon.

10- If You Liked Your Choice, Be REALLY Verbal About It

People are social (and impressionable) creatures. If they are told that something is divine, they are more likely to agree. Nobody likes to disagree, especially with a friend. So, if you are pleased with the wine choice, express how much you thoroughly enjoyed it. Make a point to be verbal (and enthusiastic) about it!

11- Remember: You Get What You Pay For

Usually, price is a good indication of the wine’s quality. So, if you want an extraordinary wine you will have to pay top dollars. You also have a lot of good quality wines at cheaper prices.

That being said…

12- BEWARE of Cheapest (and Most Expensive) Options

Wine lists are specifically developed to maximize the restaurant’s profit. So, the cheapest wine (which is requested a lot) is designed to have a big profit margin. Or… maybe you are on the other spectrum and want to impress a date or a client. The most expensive wine is also designed to have a higher profit margin. This means a worse cost-benefit for you.

13- Don’t Take It TOO Seriously

You followed all the tips. Even so, you did not enjoy it so much. It happens. It’s not the end of the world. Maybe you’ll even get another chance with the second bottle you’re ordering. Just keep going at it till you become an expert!

You now have the tools to pick the best (and most inexpensive) wine.

Now go out there and order some delicious wine! You’ll be sure to impress your friends and make your meal unforgettable.

Oh… I almost forgot!


Paulo Vega

Paulo Vega is on a lifelong (and exciting) quest to destroy the Evil Wizard of Ordinary. He writes original life hacks and tips to help others achieve extraordinary (and lasting) results.

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