Even the most ardent, self-proclaimed wine geek can become bewildered when faced with a restaurant wine list. So many wines, so little time, and what does it all mean, as half of the selections are in another language?
Step 1: Download the online wine list
If possible, download the wine list ahead of time, as many restaurant wine lists now appear online. Besides, choosing the wine before the meal makes perfect sense to wine lovers and beginners alike. In addition, you won’t be easily coerced to spend more than you had intended if you have one or more wines in mind before sitting at table.
Step 2: Categorize each wine
Next, learn to categorize: White Wines (may also appear as Blanc, Blanc de Blancs, Blanco, or Bianco); Red Wines (often masquerade as Rouge, Rosso, Rojo, and Tinto); Sparkling Wines (more often than not hide under the names Cava, Champagne and Prosecco-based upon their country of origin); and of course Rosé Wine, which can run the gamut from a light sweet blush wine like White Zinfandel to a bone dry, thirst quenching French Rosé that can make you think you’re sipping heaven at a table in the South of France.
Step 3: Make the grape varietal connection
Next, try to make the varietal connection. New World wines most often bear the name of the predominant grape varietal on the label, while most Old World wines bear the generic name of their appellation or region of origin. If you can make the varietal connection between Old World and New World, you can break much of the code that makes restaurant wine lists so intimidating. This is especially true for wines from France, Italy and Spain, the world’s three largest producers of wine.
Stay tuned for more on how to crack the code and navigate restaurant wine lists. In the meantime, don’t forget to consider a restaurant’s by the glass selections, which are typically more exciting than what is offered by the carafe (a full liter of wine that more often than not flows from a much larger box).
For more information on grape varietals, visit our Wine Grape Varietals page.