Impress Your Dinner Company: 10 Tips for Ordering Wine at a Restaurant

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

You’ve just settled in at your favorite restaurant, ready for the perfect meal. Whether you’re dining with family, friends, or business associates, you want to order just the right wine. But not everyone considers themselves a wine connoisseur. Follow these tips to impress your company (and yourself) when ordering wine at a restaurant!


1. Make Sure You Can Properly Converse with Your Sommelier


A wine sommelier or steward is an expert: they specialize in wine. They will be taking your order and can also make great suggestions for pairing wine with food.


2. Find Inspiration from Your Setting or Company


Not sure where to start when looking at the wine list? If you’re at a restaurant whose theme is centered around a certain country, order a wine from there. For example, if you’re dining at an Italian restaurant, choose a wine imported from Italy! Or you can order based on the people around you and their favorite recommendations, or the wines that they are trying out for the first time.


3. Beginner Wines


When it comes to wine, most people know that there are reds and whites. Within these are classics like Pino Grigio, Chardonnay, Pino Noir, Grenache, and various forms of Moscato. If you can’t decide, there’s nothing wrong with going with a well-known favorite.


4. Know the Basics


Whether you’re a wine lover, someone who enjoys an occasional glass, or you’re simply looking to expand your wine knowledge or impress friends, there are a lot of terms to know.


Grapes: Many people don’t know that wine grapes are different than regular old table grapes. They are smaller and rounder, have seeds, a thicker skin, and are sweeter in taste.


Glass holding: The most basic way to holding stemmed wine glasses is towards the base of the stem and between your thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, and your other fingers will rest on the base. You can also pinch the glass at the base of the stem. This technique is popular because it keeps finger prints off of the glass (which is aesthetically pleasing) and it keeps the wine at the correct temperature.


Styles: There are 9 main styles of wine to fit any mood whether you’re pairing it with food or want something sparkly or sweet:

  • Sparkling

  • Light-bodied white

  • Full-bodied white

  • Aromatic (sweet)

  • Rosé

  • Light-bodied red

  • Medium-bodied red

  • Full-bodied red

  • Dessert

Tannins: Tannins are a textural element that creates a dry taste to wine. Tannin naturally occurs in seeds, plants, wood, bark, leaves, and fruit skins. It adds complexity as well as a bitter and astringent flavor to wine. If you’ve ever had unsweetened black tea, then you have a good idea of what tannins taste like!


Red grapes are higher in tannins because the skins have a longer exposure with the juice, meaning that red wines have a higher tannin flavor/count. If that’s what you’re looking for, be sure to order a red.


Terroir: The environment in which grapes are grown can heavily affect their taste. From soil, climate, terrain, and tradition, grapes grown in different regions can have varying sugar and acid levels, as well as tastes.


Sweet: Sweet wines have more sugar and less acidity. Sugar is what ferments into alcohol during the creation of wine. When a wine is sweet, this means that it has a certain amount of residual sugar left over from the fermentation process.


Dry: These wines have more tannins and have no residual sugar, making them bitter or even sour in taste. Remember that dry does not mean there is no fruit. The term dry comes from the fact that it tends to dry your mouth out.


Oaky: This is used to describe an oaky flavor tone to the wine, which comes from the use of a barrel during fermentation or aging.


Bouquet: This fancy term is used to describe the aroma of your wine.


Body: Light-bodied wines are just that: light. They pair well with light meals and summertime because they tend to be sweet and refreshing, their acidity is higher, and tannins are lower. Full-bodied wines are paired best with colder weather or heavy meals. They have a low acidity and are dry.


Finish: This is the aftertaste produced by wine.


5. Flavor Pairing


As mentioned earlier, dry wines pair well with heavier meals while sweet wines taste the best with light meals and summertime. There are wine pairs for everything – steak, pasta, seafood, and even dessert!


6. Not sure? Go for American Brands


If you are having trouble deciding which wine is best for your current mood or meal, go for something easy like an American wine because the type of grape used is listed right on the bottle.


7. Price Points and Markups


Although restaurants tend to raise prices much higher than retail, know that the more expensive the wine, the less the markup. This means that you shouldn’t reach for the cheapest wine on the list, but something a little higher up, or even the second cheapest.


8. Lesser Known=Greater Value


Grapes or regions that are not as well-known can provide high quality and a new adventure. Restaurants will favor wines based on customer expectations, meaning that if a wine is on the wine list, someone else loved it.


9. Order by the Glass


Although ordering by the glass can be more expensive, it can be worth it because it brings the most variety. Ordering by the glass allows everyone at the table to try new and different drinks, or you can change up pairings for each part of the meal.


10. Order the Syrah-Xinomavro


Don’t be afraid to order wine just because you can’t pronounce the names! You might miss out on an excellent flavor experience or finding a new favorite.


Wine and Dine at CityGate Grille


At CityGate Grille, we can create an exceptional meal experience for you and your party! With whites, reds, Zinfandel, and international reds, we offer a variety of wines to perfectly pair with whatever food you decide to order. Make a reservation, order diverse wines, and intensify you and your company’s senses!

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