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Choosing From The Wine List

Practical Tips for Picking Wine in a Restaurant

Panic, Panic, Panic!!! Many people experience that feeling when they first look at a massive wine list at a restaurant. If a favorite wine is not on the list, it's hard to know where to start.

What to do? Here are a few very practical tips to make your dining experience more enjoyable, by complementing dinner with a perfect bottle of wine.

Pick the restaurant: I always pick my restaurant based upon the food, the wine, and the reputation. You need all three to fully enjoy the evening. A fine meal is wasted if it is accompanied by poor wine selections and/or poor service.

Prepare in advance:

  1. Pull the wine list from the Internet before you leave home. (If the wine list is not available on the Internet, call the restaurant and have them fax or e-mail it to you.)

  2. Call the restaurant and make sure the wine list is current.

  3. Cross-check the list with Ken's Wine Guide. Look for exact matches. Correct vintages and specific vineyards are very important.

  4. Things to consider:
    • Price: You know your range. Find wines that fit your budget. Good values are two times the retail price in the Wine Guide.
    • What will you eat?: You may not know ahead what members of your party will order, so cover most bases by pre-selecting a few whites and a few reds. But, knowing what you might order will help you determine the right grapes to consider. Take a look at the menu online if one is available.
    • Your Guests: Do you know what they like? If so, add their favorite wines to your short list.

  5. Develop a short list of 5 to 10 wines you would like to consider: All of them will be winners! Record the details on an index card and bring it to the restaurant with you in case you forget exactly which wines you want.

  6. Have the restaurant hold the wine: If you are selecting some really special wines from the wine list, call the restaurant and have them set the bottle(s) aside. The wine will be there waiting for you to enjoy.

Do not have enough time to prepare in advance?: Your fallback position is to rely on the sommelier. He or she can point you in the right direction. A subtle way to indicate your price range is to point to a wine on the list that you think you might want, one that is the right price for you. The sommelier will take the hint, and either agree with the selection or lead you to a better selection in your price range.

I hope you find this system helpful and practical. It has always worked for me. Wine is meant to be enjoyed. So follow our tips and enjoy your food and wine experience.

Sending Back Wine at a Restaurant by Alex DeWinter

I know someone who claims that winemakers make a small amount of corked wine on purpose, just so we can all experience a treacherously uncomfortable situation from time to time. It is difficult to know what to do the first time it happens to you because no matter how much you know about wine, there is often a level of doubt and worry that creeps in when smelling that old, musty odor. The best advice that I can give is that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If you think that there is a flaw with the wine, you’re probably right. The human nose is incredibly sensitive and is usually not mistaken when catching a whiff of something as unpleasant as TCA (cork taint). I would suggest immediately telling your server or wine steward that the wine is "flawed" and that you request that they taste it and retrieve another bottle for you. A small percentage of wine/cork is infected with this bacteria & it is not unlikely that you will get a bottle at some point in your drinking life. I don’t recommend saying, "This is awful". There is no doubt that corked wine tastes "awful" so bringing this up is simply a moot point. The more professionally & courteously you handle the situation, the better you will be treated as result & then you can wait for the next time some tricky winemaker tries to ruin your meal.- Alex





Cork Lore: A cork tree must be at least 25 years old before its bark can be harvested the first time, but it cannot be used for wine stoppers until the third harvest. Cork trees can be stripped of their bark no more than every 9 to 12 years. In one harvest, enough cork is removed from the average tree to make 4,000 wine stoppers.

Source: Wine Lover's 2012 Calendar (Page a Day Calendar)

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