Ordering Wine In A Restaurant

Paul Morrone |

By Tom Morrone, CFP ®, CPA, Principal

If we are out to dinner with friends and it comes to ordering wine, I like to take charge.

Even if it is just Cathy and I, she knows I enjoy reading through the wine list so she just trusts my judgement. There are wine lists and then there are wine lists. Based on the type of restaurant you can usually anticipate the diversity of wines on the menu. If you are at a BBQ restaurant you probably will have a very limited wine selection. But there is a wine list. Change the dining venue to a steak house or a nice Italian restaurant and bam, now you have a real wine list. There is a national chain of Chuck’s Steakhouses. Their wine list is robust and pairs well their menu. What was unique about Chuck’s in their early years was that their dinner menu was painted on a small Lancer’s wine bottle that was left on the table near the salt and pepper shakers and A-1 steak sauce. Chuck’s was also one of the first restaurants at a national level to offer wine selections by the glass. The owners of Chucks (the first was opened in Hawaii in 1967 by the way) certainly had a vision about serving wine by the glass. Now, most restaurants offer that as an option and that certainly bodes well if a couple wants wine with dinner and one wants a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with their steak and the other wants a glass of Chardonnay with their swordfish. 

I am impressed when a server discusses their food menu and recommends wine pairings without even being asked. Many chefs build out their menu and wine list together and see them as one big menu. Part of the educational process for the servers at certain restaurants is to understand the pairing mentality and also to know if the chef has designed the food menu and wine list with specific combinations in mind. Then of course there are menus of food and wine lists that are not built out together but do complement each other. I am sure I am not alone that when ordering wine at a restaurant, I review the food menu to see what I will be eating before ordering wine. Sometimes I review the wine list to see what catches my eye and I may order wine because I want to try that specific bottle and then order the food that will work well with the wine. One way or another I will be having wine with dinner.

Part of selecting wine at a restaurant is the presentation of the bottle by the server to the individual who ordered the wine to confirm the selection. The bottle should be opened table side and the cork also presented. If a server brings an open bottle of wine to the table you should refuse the bottle. A mouthful portion should be poured to be allowed for a taste before the wine is poured in full glass portions. This tasting confirms that the wine has not spoiled or turned to vinegar or even something worse. I have sampled many a bottle over the years in restaurants all over the world and there was only one time when the wine selected had actually turned to pure vinegar. It was not pleasant. A second bottle of the same wine was opened and it was fabulous. Go figure.

There are many wonderful things in life to enjoy. For me, drinking wine is one of things.

Until the Next Tom’s Take…