Tips on how to navigate a restaurant wine list

Take the pressure out of navigating a restaurant’s wine collection. Picture: Pexels

Take the pressure out of navigating a restaurant’s wine collection. Picture: Pexels

Published May 16, 2024


Matching the perfect wine to a dish in a restaurant can often leave diners feeling frustrated. Feeling perplexed by a wine list is not uncommon and many people tend to go with a familiar option when under pressure. Yet, this does not have to be the case.

Here are some tips to help you avoid any awkward moments and look like a pro.

Open with bubbles. Picture: Pexels/Cottonbro

Open with bubbles

When you sit down and want to go through the wine list, stall for time by ordering a glass of bubbles. Champagne is always a top choice, but there are so many excellent sparkling options typically available at a more accessible price point.

Not only is it a festive way to start any meal, but it allows for some breathing room to properly peruse the wine list and help whet your appetite.

Ask for advice

Even with the biggest, deepest wine lists, do not be intimated. The sommeliers created that list because they are passionate about the world of wine and want to share as much as possible with their guests.

If you are not in the mood to pour over the wine list, that is okay. Just ask for advice. The sommelier’s job is to help you choose the right wine for your meal.

When asking a sommelier or wine server for advice, describe the style of wine you typically enjoy - even sharing the brand name is fine. Give a price range you want to spend and share what food you will be ordering.

Match the wine to the dish. Picture: Pexels/Lina

Match the wine to the dish

You want to ensure that your chosen wine will not clash with the dish you have ordered, and this can be problematic if people order quite different dishes.

If you have enough diners, you can always order multiple wines with a course, but if you are fewer than five people, you may want to pick an “in-between” wine.

These are wines that can go either way, with meat, fish, or vegetables. A red like Pinot Noir is a good choice here, as is a white like a full-bodied Chardonnay.

If enough people order a similar dish, then you might want to consider the principles of wine pairing. Think about the key elements of the dish and consider how they will play against the structural components of your wine choice.

Pay attention to the weight of the food, how fatty or rich it is, and whether there are sweet or savoury accents. Determine whether you want the wine to compliment or contrast with the flavours of the dish.

Ask for the wine to be decanted

Most wines benefit from decanting, so if you are planning on sharing a bottle over the course of the evening, ask your sommelier to decant it for you.

It will allow the flavours to really open up, and demonstrate that you have got more than just a passing interest in wine.

Just make sure you get to see the bottle before it is opened so you can be sure it is the one you have ordered.