F&W's Megan Krigbaum reveals simple strategies for choosing wisely from wine lists and talking to somms.
1. Look at the list online before going out. Thanks to new cellar-tracking technology, more restaurants are able to keep lists current on their websites.
2. Don’t cheap out on Pinot Noir. It’s hard to find a great one on a list for under $75.
3. Never use the word dry when telling a sommelier the kind of wine you like. It’s not helpful, since most wine is dry (i.e., lacks residual sugar).
4. Danger! There are no vintages, regions or wineries on the list.
5. Danger! Your only options are “red” and “white.”
6. Danger! The wine is stored on top of or under hot lights (heat and light will damage it).
7. When the wine options are dicey, play it safe and order a young, light white; if nothing else, it will be cold and refreshing.
8. Smart question for the sommelier: “Can you bring me something nerdy?”
9. Another smart question: “What grape or region are you most excited about right now?”
10. One more: “Do you have anything open that’s not on your by-the-glass list?”
11. Ask the sommelier to give you some descriptors for the wines you like. Word clues like “chewy,” “tannic” or “stony” can help the sommelier at the next place you visit understand your tastes.
12. Snap a photo. Wine apps, like Delectable, are a good way to keep track of the bottles you like for future reference.
13. Get more recommendations. Ask the sommelier to suggest wines from other regions or made with similar grapes.
14. If you like ripe sonoma Chardonnay, try a full-bodied Chenin Blanc from South Africa: 2013 Badenhorst Secateurs ($16).
15. If you like Chianti Classico, try an herb-scented Loire Cabernet Franc: 2011 Charles Joguet Cuvée Terroir Chinon ($21).
16. If you like Rich Southern Rhône Reds, try a structured Priorat: 2012 Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat ($22)
17. Ask the sommelier what he or she would drink.
18. Hold the wine list out to the sommelier and point to a price you’re OK with.
19. Tell the sommelier what kinds of wine you usually like.
20. When in doubt, choose a red wine with meat and a white wine with fish.