Recommendations and tips for purchasing wine in a restaurant
(and getting the best deal!)
1. Purchase a bottle of wine that is offered by the glass.
All restaurants will generally pour you a taste off the "wine by
the glass" menu. So you can try it before you buy it. Now you are
not stuck with a wine you don't like. Also, many will offer a better
price on buying the bottle rather than multiple wines by the glass.
2. Explore unusual wine regions.
You are probably not going to get the best deal on a California Cabernet
like a Silver Oak or Caymus - these are high profile and in-demand wines.
bet, look to wines offered in regions least explored by mainstream wine
drinkers. Like Cabs, look to countries like Australia or regions like
Washington State. How about Shiraz from South Africa instead of Australia?
Looking for a good Merlot-based wine from Bordeaux - head to the satellite
appellations of Pomerol. There are great wines being made all over the
world and they usually have a smaller mark-up and represent a better
3. Explore unusual grapes.
When is the last time you had Gruner Veltliner or Muskat? Probably not
too many times. How about Pinot Gris from the Okanagan Valley in Canada
or Willamette Valley in Oregon? There is a big push among many sommeliers
to guide guests into new grape varietals that are off the usual paths.
Sommeliers are excited to offer them (many are tired of the "usual
suspects") and generally offer them at lower mark-ups.
4. Explore "off" vintages.
I have a general rule that many practice in the industry - a great producer
in most cases will make a good wine in a tough vintage (bad weather
or harvest). In many regions around the world, there will be less than
desirable vintages that do not receive the "big-points" from
wine critics. I think there is great opportunity for consumers to drink
good wines from these vintages. There are many good wines from the 98
California Cabernet crop, 99 Bordeaux vintage and 97 Burgundies available
in the marketplace and many on wine lists around the country. In most
cases it is a chance to drink a Mouton or a Lafon at a much lower price.
5. Ask questions - Ask for help.
Many restaurants around the country do not have full-time sommeliers
at their disposal to assist guests and offer assistance. No problem.
Ask your server, if you are not happy with their answer, ask for a manager
or another employee who knows the list or buys the wines. Chances are
there will be someone on hand to offer some assistance.