How to Order Wine at a Restaurant and Still Have Enough Money Left for Food
By Jordan Costello, Associate Winemaker, Francis Ford Coppola Winery
When I am out with friends – we're in our mid-30s and some of us are new to wine – I'm focusing on fun, not on picking apart the wine list. A restaurant's selections are chosen to complement the menu and, frequently, highlight local producers. I rely on a server's recommendations, too, as being familiar with selections is an important part of their job.
Enjoying a night out with friends is not about creating the perfect pairing. Don't get lost in your head trying to figure out the exact "right" wine. Order what you like, based on the considerations of the moment, including everyone's preferences and budget.
Red, White or Bubbly?
"Are you in the mood for red or white," I typically ask when I am out with friends. I gravitate towards white or sparkling wines. Most of my friends go for reds. When it comes to versatility, bubbles are ideal and are a great lead into whatever may follow. If you're not sure what to choose, ask for a glass of bubbles! You can't go wrong.
Glass or Bottle?
Because I don't always want to stick with a single wine throughout an entire meal, I often order by the glass. There may be fewer choices than with bottles, but they have been selected thoughtfully, so rely on your server. If you can't decide between a couple of different wines, most servers will offer a taste.
Although some people dismiss house wines, there is nothing wrong with them. House wines are a good price, they go well with the restaurant's food and they offer flexibility. Again, rely on your server!
If I'm with a group of friends and we all agree, I will order a bottle. A bottle contains between four and six glasses, depending on how you pour, so it is a better deal than ordering by the glass, as three glasses will typically cost as much or more than a bottle of the same wine.
Terroir & Type
Pay attention to where you are! If I'm in Sonoma County, I look for wines from the region. If I'm in, say, Santa Barbara, I do the same thing: I look for wines from nearby viticultural areas. Wine buyers tend to be experts on their regions and customers benefit from this expertise.
When it comes to varietals, if you know what you like, great, choose it! If you will be ordering a bottle and cannot agree on red or white, consider Pinot Noir, which often pleases everyone. It is the most food-friendly of all red wines and often has a more attractive price than many other varietals.
Cabernet Sauvignon is considered the King of varietals. Diamond Collection Claret is an excellent example of a cabernet-based wine that is versatile and accessible. It is fruit forward, yet with a depth that engages people who prefer heavy, robust cabernets. It is as enjoyable with a sandwich as it is with a steak, and is affordable, too.
Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon appear on virtually all wine lists. You can't go wrong with either of these noble grapes.