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How to read a wine list..

Aug 02 2018

We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re on a third date taking a special someone out for a romantic meal, or you’re entertaining a client, wanting to impress. You’re having a great time until you’re given a wine list the length of the Bible, with words you don’t recognise and certainly can’t pronounce. Suddenly panic ensues and sweat beads start to form.

Even in places where there are fewer choices, it can still be daunting. However, there are a few tricks and practices which will help you find a decent bottle that your bank account will agree with.

Firstly some basics. If you think you’ll have more than a couple of small glasses it’s always worth buying a bottle. Buying wine by the glass is much more expensive. Buying a bottle also guarantees it is freshly opened and also it removes the awkwardness of constantly ordering more, allowing yourself to relax.

Tip #1: Get a head start

Most restaurants will have their wine list, and their menus online. If it’s an occasion you care about, spend some time beforehand looking it up. Search for any terms or grapes you don’t recognise and familiarise yourself. This means there is unlikely to be any surprises and all your attention can be on your companion.

Tip #2: Pick something you like

If you’ve heard of a wine and know you like it there's nothing wrong with going for it. You’re much more likely to enjoy a bad bottle of something you normally like than a good bottle of something you’re unfamiliar with.

Tip #3: The sommelier is your friend

If you are in a quality restaurant they are likely to have a quality sommelier. Lots of people think that talking to one is pretentious, or they will try to rip you off.

This is largely a misconception. A good sommelier should be able to gauge your knowledge, how much you are comfortable with spending and the style of wine you might like through very minimal interaction, it is the skill of a job. They’re there to help you, make your experience the best it can be, and to share their passion for wine with you.

It’s best to be clear with what you have in mind, and how much roughly you’re willing to spend. Always keep an open mind and be adventurous to try something new, as they will often be right.

Tip #4: Bubbles are a great option

Sparkling wines are an excellent pairing for many foods, particularly fried foods, spicy foods, rich desserts and many fish dishes. It makes them fantastically diverse in what they’ll go with.

When looking for sparkling wines, choose unknown Champagne brands, Cava or Cremant (sparkling wine made in France), you’ll get far better value and quality than choosing branded Champagne or Prosecco.

This rule of avoiding big names goes across the board. Wines like Sancerre and Burgundy will be marked up higher, ask the sommelier for a better value alternative.

Tip #5: Don’t overspend

Spending more won’t necessarily get you a better bottle. In a good quality restaurant, the cheaper wines will have earned their place on the list. At an everyday restaurant it’s unlikely that the top end wines will be of particularly good quality, so not worth overspending on.

Don’t feel guilty about buying the cheapest bottle, however, we recommend spending a bit more and going for the mid-range. This is because higher markups are put on the cheapest bottles.

Golden rule: Never buy the second cheapest on the list, it’ll always be the highest markup as restaurants know that it’s the most popular choice for those who aren’t comfortable choosing.

Tip #6: Don’t stress about perfect pairings

Oh no! You ordered lamb and they’ve ordered fish, what now? We say, don’t worry too much about the perfect pairing. Generally speaking, wine should have more acidity than the food, if you manage that you’ll be fine, you can spot higher acidity on a list by lower alcohol and words like “crisp”, or “bright”. Don’t forget to run it past the sommelier.

Keep these tips in mind next time you have an important meal out, keep a cool head and don’t stress. You’ve got this!

We hope this article has been helpful. If you have any feedback or questions regarding this or anything else we’d love to hear from you. Message us at

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