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Dining Out FAQ’s

After you have decided what you will have to eat, consider the lightness or heaviness of the dish and the sauce.

  • Match light wines with light foods (this can either be a light white wine or a light red wine).
  • Try a wine with just a touch of sweetness (called off-dry wine) with savory foods that have a bit of sweetness to them.
  • If a food is acidic try a wine that is high in acid for balance.
  • Bitter foods will accentuate bitterness in a wine so try a wine that is not overly tannic with bitter foods.
  • More tannic wines will balance astringent foods.
If the wine list is organized by varietal, decide if you want to order red, white, or rosé to help cut down on your choices. If the wine list is progressive (wines are listed in order from lightest to fullest-bodied) you can then choose your wine by matching the lightness/heaviness of your food with body style of the wine. Don’t hesitate to get a recommendation from the wine steward or server, if they are knowledgeable. They are familiar with what foods on their menus and wines on their wine list are proven taste pleasers.

When having dinner with a group of diners who are ordering a wide range of foods, one option is to choose a bottle of red and a bottle of white for the table. That will give everyone room for experimentation. Another option is for each diner to order by the glass. This method allows each to choose the wine they prefer, and to choose different wines for different courses if they like.

When the bottle arrives, check the following; vintage (often changed without warning), name of the wine, producer. Check that the temperature is satisfactory. Feel free to touch the bottle. It is better for both reds and whites to be too cold than too warm. Don't be embarrassed to ask for an ice bucket to chill both whites and reds. Make sure that each bottle is opened in front of you and that red wines are decanted at the table. When invited to taste the wine, do so. Don't be rushed, do the following: look at it (it should be clear and bright), smell it (it should smell clean and fresh), taste it (it should have no off-flavors). If there is anything wrong, don't hesitate in saying so immediately.

You should really only send the bottle of wine back if it is truly bad; corked or oxidized. A wine is not considered bad if you simply don’t like it. If the wine is corked, it will have an unpleasant corky or moldy taste. If it is oxidized (air has gotten by the cork), it will have an off taste or aroma reminiscent of Sherry. If you think the wine is bad, inform your server; they should take it back without hesitation.

You don’t need to sniff the cork if you don’t want to. But by squeezing the bottom end of the cork, a little of the wine can be sniffed to be sure it smells like wine and does not have a moldy odor of tainted cork. The real proof, though, is in the smell and taste of the wine itself--let your own good taste be your guide.

Many restaurants charge two to three times their cost for a bottle of wine. Some restaurants use a sliding scale: they will mark up a less expensive bottle of wine more than they will a more expensive one. There are also business-related reasons for the mark up--the cost of storing the wine, training qualified wine staff and wait staff, and the cost of replacing broken stemware. Some restaurants may also allow you to bring your own bottle of wine and charge a corkage fee. Many restaurants will also offer you a free sample of the house wine or a special wine they've chosen, and most wine-savvy restaurants will offer wines by the glass in a broad range of prices. Trying different wines by the glass can prove an inexpensive way to discover new wines you like.