My Tips and Thoughts on Wine Lists and Ordering Wine in a Restaurant
Over the past three weeks we have again been discussing wine lists, specifically the wine list at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk (Elkhart, Ind.) In this posting I have freshened up, clarified and expanded on several topics in an earlier piece I posted here on wine lists in which I offer my tips and thoughts on ordering wine from any wine list.
Wine by the Glass (WBTG)
Wines by the glass are an important part of any wine list. There are two schools of thought on this topic and certainly no rules of thumb that I know of on whether to order wine by the glass or the bottle.
One school of thought on buying wine by the glass is that you should not do so because of the price. This stems from the thought that the markup is too high on a glass of wine. The old rule of thumb (I believe this is no longer true since the recession, as it certainly is not in my area) by most restaurants was to cover the wholesale cost of the bottle of wine in the price of the first glass. For example, if the restaurant paid its distributor $8.00 for a bottle of wine, in its WBTG program the restaurant it would sell that wine for $8.00 or $9.00 per glass. Thus, the restaurant paid for the bottle with the “first glass” and the next three are profit on the bottle. This approach to pricing still exists but is more common in larger markets.
In today’s economy many restaurants are trying to build their WBTG programs and provide value to their customers…thus reducing their markups. In small markets, like mine, I am seeing the glass prices being lowered and offering better wines at good prices per glass.
When you are in a group, it is good to remember if three of you are drinking wine and you can agree on a wine, you may be better off cost-wise to purchase a bottle rather than order by the glass. Also it is good to remember, or use this rule of thumb, that the restaurant is going to pour four to five glasses of wine from each standard 750ml bottle (depending on the size of the pour). So it is pretty simple math to figure out whether to buy by the glass or the bottle. Does the cost of four or five glasses of wine cost more than the price of the bottle? As I said pretty simple math.
Some restaurants offer carafes or ½ carafes of wine. Typically a carafe holds about 1 liter of wine, while a bottle is .75 liters of wine. Most restaurants that offer carafes tend to sell house wine this way. Frankly, I tend to shy away from house wines for two reasons. First, I don’t believe I have had a house wine I really cared for. Second, house wines are typically over-priced.
Another reason people shy away from buying wine by the glass is the inability to know how long the bottle has been open. The longer the bottle has been open, the less likely it is to retain its flavor. You rarely know if your glass is the first, fresh glass from the bottle or the last from a bottle that has been open for two to three days. It doesn’t hurt to ask how long the bottle has been open.
The opposite side of the WBTG issue, and the one I favor, is that WBTG gives you the opportunity to taste a lot of different wines. You can even go global and taste wines from around the world. This, of course, assumes the list has a selection of old world and new world wines. Granted you might be paying slightly more, but in this instance you are tasting the wines at far less than the price per bottle and more importantly, building your knowledge on various wines. I think sampling wines by the glass is a great way to educate yourself on many types of wines and the many wineries and winemakers that produce them.
In my case, another factor is that most the time when Mrs. Tiedemann and I are dining out, she doesn’t drink a lot of wine. So buying a bottle for myself is just too much wine to drink (at least I shouldn’t anyway). In Indiana, it only takes about two glasses of wine to exceed the legal blood alcohol limit. I always try, and you should as well, to drink responsibly. A DUI arrest isn’t worth that extra glass of wine.
First and foremost: Don’t become intimidated or frustrated with the wine list. Remember that ordering wine should be enjoyable and the wine list is a harmless piece of paper. Another important factor when looking at a wine list is to take your time…no need to rush into anything. When you take your time you can get a feel for the sensibility of the person or persons who are in charge of selecting wines for the list. Hopefully they have considered the pairing of the wines with the menu, and the value, variety and the flavor of the wines they are offering. These are all important items for your wine enjoyment. Remember to take a minute to figure out the list’s structure or layout, and then break the list down into pieces such as by red or white wines, by price, by flavor or intensity, etc. The ordering of wine is simply a process of elimination.
I hope these comments and tips help you when ordering wine and make your next restaurant visit very enjoyable.
As always I appreciate your continued support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with friends and family. Your comments on this blog or on any other topics are welcome below.
Until next Thursday,