Sure, certain guidelines—like ordering a wine that “matches” the food you’re eating (think: an Italian wine at an Italian restaurant)—still hold true. But others are outdated and, at times, just plain wrong. We consulted with Food & Wine executive editor Ray Isle to help cut through the noise.
Myth: You should order the second least expensive wine on the menu
Reality: You can go ahead and order the least expensive bottle
We’ve all gone for the not-quite-cheapest option at one time or another—no judgment. But Isle says you shouldn’t bother.
“A sommelier isn’t going to put bad wine on the menu anymore than the chef is going to put bad food on the menu,” he says, noting that restaurants with good wine programs usually offer some great values. “The sommelier is only going to put things on the menu that they really, really love,” says Isle. “They aren’t going to have their one $35 bottle on the menu be something that stinks.”
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So if the least expensive bottle on the list sounds good to you, order it with confidence.
Myth: An expensive meal calls for an expensive wine
Reality: It’s best to save splurges on wine for simpler meals
When you want to indulge in an incredible bottle of wine like a Château Margaux or Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (both top-shelf French wines), Isle suggests ordering a no-frills meal.
“The easiest rule of thumb is that, like on a Hollywood set, you really only want one star at the table,” he says. “Order good food, but nothing so complex that it will detract from the enjoyment of the wine.”
Something like roasted chicken is ideal.
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Myth: You’ll end up with the most expensive wine on the menu if you consult with the sommelier
Reality: Sommeliers are there to help you pick a wine—and a price—you’re happy with
Don’t be embarrassed to wave the sommelier over and ask him or her to make suggestions.
“The best place to start is always with the sommelier or wine director because they are there to get you a great bottle of wine that you are going to enjoy for the price that you want to pay,” says Isle. “They are not evil sharks trying to take your cash and give you lousy wine.”
Not only do restaurants want your repeat business, but there’s also an element of pride involved.
“There are thousands of wines in the world, so what’s on that list are only things that they think are terrific and that have been chosen to go well with the food at the restaurant,” says Isle.
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WINE BUYING 101
Food & Wine executive editor Ray Isle shares his top picks
White wine: Something from France’s Loire Valley
Most wine stores categorize wine by location or can tell you where a bottle’s from
Red wine: Something from the Piedmont region of Italy
Barolo is a good splurge, while Barbera is a standout affordable option
Top-shelf wine: Barolo or a Napa cabernet
They’ll impress but won’t be too pricey