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3 Tips to Navigating A Wine List

Imagine that you walk into a fancy restaurant well dressed and on-time. The host greets you and takes you to your table. Before leaving, she drops the wine list in front of you. You pick it up and proceed to search for the perfect bottle for both you and your guests. The problem is you don't know where to begin on what appears to be a codex of strange words and numbers you can't seem to decipher. It seems navigating a wine list is one of the biggest challenges faced when dining out. I am here to tell you that it does not have to be that way.


I have been in the restaurant industry for nearly a decade, and wine has always seemed to be the biggest elephant in the room. Whether it is choosing the wines that make a list, educating staff or chatting tableside with guests explaining the differences between French and American oak. It is time to knock ordering wine off its pedestal. Making the right decision on the perfect bottle should be fun, easy, and adventurous. Continue reading, and I will show you the 3 most important factors to navigating a wine list.


The first key to navigating a wine list is to trust yourself. If you are positive that you enjoy Chardonnay, then start there. While you may have no idea what the soils of Chablis are, you know what you like, and that is all you need to get started. Next, ask yourself why you may enjoy this particular varietal, what is it about the wine that keeps you drinking it. Whether you drink wines because of the color, the mouthfeel, or the alcohol. Trusting yourself should often steer you in the right direction.


Regardless of your experience, you can always ask for help. Many restaurants will have a sommelier or a wine steward on duty who can assist you in choosing the perfect bottle. You wouldn't purchase a car without test driving it first, so when possible, treat wine the same way. When asked what I recommend, I will usually differ back to the guest to find out a few things about them. What kind of wines they would normally drink, if there is a specific style they prefer, or if there is an ideal price point. Gathering this information allows me to interact with guests more effectively as we browse potential options. A common myth is that the more expensive the bottle, the better the wine. The vast majority of the time, this is not the case. The price associated with a bottle of wine is influenced by more factors than the average consumers care to know. Asking for assistance may open your eyes to a bottle you would have never considered due to how much it costs—usually saving you some money.


Lastly, the most significant step in navigating a wine list is to remember what a bottle represents. Long before the perfect pairing, wine existed because it was often more sterile than sources of water! While we could spend days discussing the humble beginnings of wine. I bring this up only to point out what is most important, and that is who you choose to share these bottles with. We, as consumers navigating a wine list too often get caught up in the perfect pairing. And, while I enjoy Château d'Yquem and Foie Gras Terrine as much as the next person. What I remember most through my hangover is who I shared the table with while drinking it.


Dining out is meant to be fun-loving and social. There are fewer things purer than sitting table side with people you care about savoring a thoughtfully plated meal. I believe that it is essential for guests to hold themselves accountable for their role in the experience they wish to have. So the next time a wine list falls into your hands, remember to trust yourself, ask for help, and when all else fails, remind yourself it's the communion that matters most.



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