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Decoding Wine Lists

F%$^&! The restaurant wine list just got dropped to you. Before you begin a game of hot potato, take a deep breath. You’ve got this one. Or at least read a little more and you will.

I do feel your pain, and while I was once the co-creator of a 53-page list, I don’t really like receiving these myself. Wouldn’t we all rather just spend time with our companions than flip through endless pages? While we all wait for more to migrate to tablets, here are a few tips to navigate the confusing selection put before you.

-Don’t choose the 2nd least expensive wine on the list. Wine Directors are hip to the ease of this choice and usually the largest markup in the joint can be found on that one item. Instead opt for the least known region you see on the list and a grape variety you like. I often think that a wine that strikes me as a lesser known wine (ie you haven’t seen billboards for it) is on that wine list because someone loved it enough to add it, as opposed to just thinking it will sell itself.

-If you don’t feel comfortable asking for help outright because you feel you will be taken, give the server or wine steward strict guidance. “I like wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon, maybe something like this,” and HERE is where you point to not a wine on the list, but a price of a wine that is attractive to you. You may feel funny about it, but it is actually very helpful to the person trying to choose something without offending you.

-An even easier question to ask your server is: what do you recommend for your friends?

Katherine Ramos: Are there any safe go-to types of wines to order from an unfamiliar list?

Yes, I look for the regions that serve value: a Malbec from Argentina for those who like big, ripe wines, a New Zealand Pinot Noir for the crisp and fruity wine lovers, or anything from Portugal. If I don’t know the regions, I go for grape varieties that tend to have strong personalities like Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc rather than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay that taste much different from region to region. One easy measure of the body of a wine (holding grape constant) is the climate of the region. The warmer the area, generally the fuller bodied the wine.

Daniel Evans: is there ever a point when you know that a wine is SO over priced that you can make sarcastic comments loud enough for managers to hear?

Oh no Daniel! This is exactly why I steer clear of familiar wines on a list. Most of the wines you often see at a retail store or in product ads will be marked up a lot more than the wines that are the hidden gems of the list. If truly overpriced, let the manager know afterward in a thoughtful letter that you would have enjoyed a bottle of wine with dinner if the prices were more reasonable and for that reason you probably won’t be coming back. Don’t ruin the dinner for you or your company.

Stunwin (via twitter): @Lot18 Port as a soup wine. Good pairing, or best pairing?

I always preferred the great wine critic Michael Broadbent’s pairing of turtle soup and Madeira. I mean come on, what on earth is turtle soup?? Nevertheless, Michael loves to wax poetic about the combination. Stunwin, port is an interesting choice. Not sure I buy one wine type for a whole category of foods that taste pretty different. I can see lobster bisque with an aged tawny or an LBV with a lentil and sausage stew. The whole thing just seems like a hot mess to me!

Also how do you deal with an aggressively intoxicated sommelier?

Never been one of those, errr I meant I don’t know any sommeliers who would serve while intoxicated. After all, those corkscrews are dangerous! Now, if your sommelier is rude or generally snooty, send them away by telling them you prefer your wine accompanied with ice and a bit of seltzer.

Post your questions for the next Ask Dinivino here or on the Lot18 Facebook page!

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