The Smart Girl's Guide to Ordering Wine with Dinner

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July 11, 2008 4:02 PM
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woman at restaurant
James Baigrie
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Avoid Wine List Traps

Restauranteurs bank on your insecurity when it comes to navigating a wine list. Most amateurs play it safe by choosing the second cheapest wine on the list. Thats where many venues put their high profit bottlesthe shabby stuff they want to get rid of. House wines are also never a good choice, as theyre purchased for their price and not their value or taste. Avoid these money traps by figuring out the average bottle price on the listthen stay near the median price for the best bang for your buck.

Red = Heavy, White = Light

Everyone knows the old saw about pairing red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat. But what about seafood and pasta entrees? As a rule, order reds with heavier meals (braised chicken, roasted turkey) and whites with lighter fare (poached salmon, antipasto). Beware: Neither goes with spicy cuisine, since it ruins the taste. If your meal will have some kickthink chili rubs and curriesorder a sweeter wine like a Riesling to tame the spiciness of the food.

Skip the Popular Names

Typically, the most well-known wines also get the biggest mark up (up to five times the market price!), since theyre easily recognizable and popular choices. To get a better deal, try a Spanish Rioja instead of the standard Bordeaux, or an Italian prosecco in place of Champagne.
woman with wine bottle in an ice bucket
Scott and Zoe
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Have a Plan B

In unexpected situations, a white wine is the most flexible choice. A Sauvignon Blanc will go with everything from salads and pasta to fish, chicken, veal, and pork. If youre a sucker for red, a lighter one pairs better with more dishes than a heavy winea Pinot Noir nicely complements any pasta, chicken, or meat dish well.

Do Your Homework

To impress at a business meal, study up beforehand. Most restaurants have wine lists available online, or you can call ahead to find out their wine offerings. Then research these wines, so you can ask your dining partner for his or her preferences, and make good suggestions. Check out this Food and Wine Matching Engine, which gives wine-pairing suggestions for everything from foie gras to popcorn.

Get a Recommendation

You’re not alone in your confusion over the wine list. About 95 percent of diners rely on the restaurant staff for suggestions. Point to a wine in your price range, and ask a friendly waiter for suggestions. This is a subtle way of pointing out your budget and preferences, and solicit a suggestion based on the waiter’s knowledge of the restaurant’s offerings.