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Navigating the Restaurant Wine List with Ease


We’ve all been there, looking through an endless wine list thinking, clearly bigger is not always better – the sheer abundance of wine choices causing us to choke when asked the all too early question, “Can I get you something to drink?” Innocent enough, but the pressure to choose a wine before you’ve even decided on an entree can be just too much!

Whether it’s at a restaurant, a winery or some other venue that is serving wine to guests, the wine list is both a marketing tool and a “map” of sorts, offering a “lay of the land” with respect to wine options and possible pairings.

The good, the bad and the ugly – wine lists can carry some serious weight when it comes to evaluating a restaurant’s or winery’s ability to provide tip top sommelier service. From sheer vino variety to price points – wine lists are where it all starts for savvy consumers.

Wine List Protocol – The Lay of the Land

Most wine lists are arranged according to types of wine, i.e. Reds, Whites, Roses, Sparkling, Fortified and Dessert.

They may also be organized by wine region, with all of the wines, whether red or white, from a specific growing region grouped together for easy reference or simply laid out based on pricing. Last but not least, a stellar wine list will include the best options for pairing.

Good wine lists will generally include an intriguing selection of wines from both popular and less familiar wine estates, large producers and boutique wineries, domestic and interesting international wine ambassadors all give input for a well-rounded wine list. Vino variety piques a patron’s curiosity and will often entice them to come back to sample several wines of interest, before springing for a bottle at the local liquor shop.

Wine List Components

Several key pieces of information, beyond the wine and producer that should be clearly communicated via the almighty wine list is the wine’s price by the glass or bottle, the geographic region the wine comes from and a realistic description of the wine, along with best bets for food pairings (something that truly distinguishes a good wine lists, from a mediocre one).

The wine list is frequently one of the first impressions a restaurant makes, as it often debuts before the main menu. Depending on the restaurant, a well-designed wine list can encourage repeat business in the same way loyal customers find a favorite dish and keep coming back for more.

Getting the Best Wine for Your Buck

When it comes to getting the best value for your restaurant wine buck, keep in mind that most restaurants mark up their wine 2-3 times the wholesale price. Ironically, the best values tend to be with the higher end wines, as the cheap wines take the heaviest mark ups. Lesser known wine regions often carry lighter mark ups as well. While, the bigger brand names typically take higher mark ups because customers are less likely to take wine risks when ordering at a restaurant setting.

To keep the wine value in your wallet:

  • Steer clear of big brands
  • Go for the obscure wine regions
  • Opt for wines in the mid-range to get better pricing
  • Have a favorite wine list? Share it



By Stacy Slinkard, Wine Expert