When making any purchase decision, from a car to a cell phone, a little research goes a long way toward making a good choice. Ordering wine in a restaurant is no exception.
First, you should know that restaurants generally charge about two to two- and-a-half times the retail value for wine. Lower-priced wines are usually marked up on the higher end of this scale, meaning that a bottle that sells for $10 in a wine store usually costs about $24 in a restaurant, while a $50 bottle may only cost about $100. It almost never pays to pick the cheapest wine on the menu. If your budget allows, it’s almost always a better idea to pick something in the mid-range (or upper, if you’re so inclined).
It also pays to do a little math when it comes to deciding whether to purchase a whole bottle versus individual glasses of wine. Wines by the glass are generally marked up by an even higher percentage than whole bottles, so purchasing four glasses of wine usually costs more than buying the bottle (which contains 4-5 glasses). A $7 glass of Shiraz, for example, will sell by the bottle for about $25. If you and your co-diners plan to drink the same wine, this is usually the way to go both from an economical standpoint and because you get a freshly opened bottle, something you can’t always count on when buying by the glass.
Even if you are familiar with the wines on a restaurant’s list, it’s a good idea to ask your server or sommelier for suggestions. They can often steer you toward a delicious new discovery or a food-wine pairing you may not have considered otherwise. Many restaurants are willing to pour you a small taste of the wines you are considering if they have open bottles. And here’s a good tip: ask if the restaurant has a “captain’s list,” limited quantity, close-out priced bottles that are no longer on the main menu.
Do not be intimidated by sommeliers. These people are passionate about wine and love to discuss its merits with anyone who asks. You will go a long way toward making an educated decision that you will be very pleased with by taking some time to ask their suggestions. A good sommelier will always ask about your wine preferences, what you plan to eat and your price range.
So whether the wine list consists of a few selections or is pages long, these guidelines should help you make a wise choice. Cheers!