As a winemaker, I know a thing or two about how to order wine at any restaurant. The wine lists at all restaurants can be overwhelming, but even more so at fancier, more expensive restaurants! But I have a few key tips to ease your anxiety and help you order the perfect wine every time.

#1 Use your waiter's expertise

One of the biggest mistakes people make when going to a restaurant is not asking their waiter. They not only know the food on the menu better than anyone, they also know which wines are most ordered and can often tell you the best wines to pair. Many times, I have asked for recommendations, and if they are not sure, they will go ask one of their co-workers for advice. And if the restaurant you are ordering from has a sommelier, then you are in for a treat, as they typically know the history of the wines and wineries on their list. So, never be afraid to ask for help!

#2 Try pairing with your main course

When you’re looking over the wine list, try to consider your main course and how the wine will enhance your meal. Here are a few pointers:

  1. Find a link between the intensity of the wine with that of your main course. For example, fish is light and delicate, so it deserves a light and delicate wine like a Pinot Gris. Similarly, a hearty stew pairs perfectly with a rich, full-bodied red like a Cabernet Sauvignon.
  2. If your dish has a cream base, a white wine is best. The higher acid level in the wine will cut through the oiliness of the dish, creating a perfect balance. Try a Chardonnay or Riesling.

#3 Make sure to ask

I used to feel uncomfortable asking for a taste at restaurants, but one time I ordered something that just didn't pair well at all. It made the evening kind of a bummer! The next time I was at a restaurant, I was wavering between two wines and I asked the waiter for his opinion. He offered me a taste of each. I gladly accepted and one wine was a clear winner for the dinner I was ordering. So, my lesson: if the waiter offers a taste, accept it, even ask for it! Typically, you can only taste wines that they serve by the glass, but it never hurts to ask!

#3 If your wine doesn't taste good, send it back!

Sometimes a wine can be be bad. It happens, so don't be afraid to let your waiter know! I had an experience with my mom where we both order a glass of the same wine. As we ate our dinner, my mom mentioned she was surprised that she didn't like the wine, as it was from a winery we know and love. I was surprised as well, since I loved mine. I took a sip of her wine and it was dramatically different, old tasting. We asked out waiter, and it turns out that she was poured a glass from an already opened bottle and mine was from a newly opened bottle. We had never thought about that before in a restaurant! Now, if we order a glass of wine, we specifically ask how long the bottle has been opened, and let our waiter know of our previous experience. No one wants bad wine!

#4 One last tip

Remember: this is YOUR night out, make sure you enjoy every moment of it!