The vast number of wine options (and the cost associated!) at restaurants can be intimidating. Keep in mind these guidelines and you’ll have a better chance of finding a wine you’ll enjoy for a price you’re willing to pay.
Let Go of the Past
One of the best ways to find value is to break out of the same tired old rut of cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay. More than 10,000 wine-grape varietals are cultivated throughout the world. Limiting yourself to just a small handful of the most common will not only be detrimental to your wallet, but to your overall understanding and enjoyment of wine. Look instead for lesser-known varietals from more obscure regions that are new, exciting and affordable. (Not sure which those are? Ask!) Remember: There was a time when cabernet sauvignon wasn’t well known either.
Wines by the Glass: Ripe Opportunity or Blatant Rip Off?
Avoid purchasing a bottle that is also offered by the glass because of the inherent markup that protects the restaurant from spoilage, waste, etc. While by-the-glass options may still be exceptional, they are often priced higher than they would be if offered by the bottle only.
Price vs. Value
Value is the level of quality that you receive for the price you pay. The assumption here is that you are willing to pay something reasonable for the wine you hope to enjoy. Just like you can’t get filet mignon for the price of a hamburger, you can’t get first-growth Bordeaux for the price of Oregon pinot gris. Often, the best values are in the middle to upper-middle in terms of price point on a wine list. The reason is simple: It is in the restaurant’s best interest to offer the best value to the guests who reach a certain threshold of expenditure on wine. Going to a restaurant and hoping to find the best value in the cheapest bottle of wine ignores the reality that restaurants are still businesses.
The bottom line: If you don’t want to spend any money, stay home. Eat bologna from the package, drink some white zin and Yelp about that.
Knowing What You Want: Adjectives Can Save You Money
One of the best ways to ensure that you get the right wine for the right price is to be able to describe the type of wine you typically enjoy. Simple adjectives such as “crisp,” “big” and “fruity” aid your sommelier or server in making a suggestion. If you enjoy a rich, robust red wine with tannins, there are hundreds if not thousands of analogs from which to choose. Talk to your sommelier and don’t be afraid to mention (or simply point to) how much you’re comfortable spending. It will save you time and help him or her recommend the wine that is right for you.