Choosing wine at a restaurant

Ah, the moment many people dread. Whether it’s taking an important client out, choosing wine for your team, or even just selecting a bottle for your Bon Viveur father in law, choosing wine at a restaurant can give even seasoned wine drinkers the heebie-jeebies. Petrified about pronunciation? Perplexed about pricing? Perturbed at the possibility of pontificating Sommeliers? Here are a few tips to help you through the minefield. Swot up in advance (if there’s time) Yes, you’re busy, we know this. This is only for the anoraky amongst you, but it can pay off. Many restaurants and hotels post their wine lists on their websites. This gives you ample opportunity to research the wines, consider which dishes they may work with, and budget for your meal. It also gives you bluffing rights at the meal, something that may be terribly important to you. When you’re there, don’t hurry Wine lists can be pretty extensive, so take your time. Ask people about their general preferences (if they have specific likes, dislikes etc). Also find out what people want to order. Remember if your group is opting for a set menu (everyone having the same dishes for each course), this is considerably easier to match wines to than a la carte. If there is a Sommelier, take advantage Some restaurants have a wine waiter on hand to advise on the wines. Don’t hesitate to ask them for suggestions. Wine is a hulking behemoth of a subject, with no single person personally familiar with all the grape varieties, winemaking styles and producers commercially available today. In a number of cases the Sommelier will have put the wine list together themselves, or at the very least tasted the majority of wines available on the list (apart perhaps from the Chateau Margaux 1982), so they can be good to talk to. Remember Sommeliers are there to choose wine to:
  • Fit your budget
  • Suit your taste
  • Partner your food
  • Staying both in budget and pronunciation (when someone’s hovering)
A good way of subtly indicating your budget when a Sommelier or waiter is at your shoulder is simply by pointing at a wine price on the list, and saying “something like this” (let him know your menu choices first). If this sounds a bit rudimentary, bear in mind that it’s a lot easier than saying: 1. “I’ll have the Puligny Montrachet, Les Pucelles from Leflaive please.” or 2. “I’m not spending more than £20 per bottle on this lot.” If there isn’t a Sommelier, below are some very simple food and wine matching tips. Food and Wine Matching Try to match the weight of your food with the weight of the wine. A heavy wine will be too much for light food and heavy foods will be overbearing for a light wine. Heavy foods like steak and meat casseroles match nicely to full bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The lightest, most delicate wines go well with light fish dishes (we find English wines work particularly well here).

Pip Martin is the Founder of The Tasting Quarter, a Corporate Wine Tasting & Specialist Events Company. After management positions in Harrod’s Foodhall, Pip became Corporate Events Manager at Richard Branson’s online wine merchant, Virgin Wines, where he hosted over 200 wine events in a little over 15 months for companies including BBC, Morgan Stanley, PricewaterhouseCoopers and JP Morgan. Since 2002, via The Tasting Quarter, Pip and his team have produced and hosted tastings in Spain, Russia and South Africa and co-hosted events in Ireland, Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark and Switzerland for groups of 10 to 3000+. He has run virtual, hybrid and AI augmented tastings for companies including AVMI, Oracle, Adobe, Google and Cisco. He also counts all the Magic Circle law firms in the UK as repeat clients for in-person events. Pip’s media work has included wine presenting on Sky One’s Taste programme and BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. Writing credits include wine articles for Condé Nast’s Gourmet Travel and Esquire.