Guide to Choosing from a Restaurant Wine List

Picture the scene, you are out with a group of friends, colleagues or customers and you get passed the wine list with that confidence destroying statement, “You choose the wine”.

Horror, fear, trepidation, these are all the emotions that run through your mind along with the thought process, “Should I choose something expensive or something near the bottom of the price range? What do they expect? Will they think I am being cheap / flamboyant / flash?”

This is many people’s worst nightmare when faced with the wine list, a short one-pager, a stylish book or a tome to rival the Encyclopaedia Britannica (for those old enough to remember those heady pre-Google days). Whatever the format, the chances are that you will face a list of wine names that are not only unrecognisable to you but often unpronounceable. You desperately search for something familiar in the vain hope that it will also be affordable.

Burgundy, Rioja, Bordeaux, Loire Valley and Alsace, are these places or grape varieties? Malbec, Viognier, Merlot and Touriga Nacional, help I am totally confused, baffled and starting to break out in a mild sweat.

This short guide will help you to find your way through the wine list and enable you to choose something enjoyable, affordable and welcomed by your fellow diners.

House Wine
Let's start with that often misunderstood wine, 'House Wine'. Usually found at the top of the wine list and frequently described as 'House Red / Pink / White' without any further explanation other than a price per glass / bottle or maybe even carafe. There is a widely-held misconception that house wine is a cheap and nasty wine that is really only for people on a budget. There is no dounbt that this is sometimes the case but in any half decent restaurant, the house wine is one that has been chosen by the proprietor as being a wine that represents what the restaurant stands for, it is in fact an advert for their taste and judgement.

In the case of many quaility restaurants and some chain restaurants, they use a different terminology to describe the house wine. I have listed a few expamples below..

  • Pollen Street Social Sélection
  • Gaucho Selección G
  • Loch Fyne Grillo

The examples above demonstrate that the proprietors are happy to associate their brand name with the wine in the same way that they would with a signature dish and in these cases, the house wine can therefore be assumed to be of a decent quality for the price.

The Second Cheapest Wine
This urban myth is one that must be destroyed at all costs. I am sure you have heard that the second cheapest wine is the best value. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, restauranteurs have also heard this myth? Whatever you, never ever order this wine as it is often the one that the proprietor pays the least and safe in the knowledge that most people do not want to look cheap, they will often set the price slightly higher than the house wine, thereby making the highest profit margin of any wine on the list. In most cases, the house wine will be better and cheaper.

Sparkling Wines