Stop Getting Fooled By Wine Lists

Happy Weekend,

As a wine amateur, your biggest goal is: don’t look stupid.

When someone hands you a giant list of wines, it’s pretty difficult not to wince or squirm in your chair.

But, it’s easy to be confident if you follow my advice.

Here are the 4 steps to conquering any wine list like a pro.

  1. Know The Economics Of Restaurant Wine
  2. Do Your Homework
  3. Ask For A Recommendation With Caution
  4. Receive The Bottle The Right Way

Step 1: Know The Economics Of Restaurant Wine

Most wine is going to be 3-5x the cost of the bottle at retail.

This comes as a shock to some, but remember, booze is a potential profit center when managed well. And Sommeliers got to eat.

So that $30 bottle at the restaurant is something that you could buy for $10.

Plus, you’ll often pay more for the familiar. The Kim Crawford, the Caymus, they charge more because people know it and want to drink it (and often because it’s the only thing they drink).

But, you’ll often pay less for the exotic. The Xinomavro or Gewurztraminer, there’s value there, and likely a way into the Somm’s heart.

Now that you know the rules of the game, let’s exploit them.

Step 2: Do Your Homework

Once you know the basics, it’s time to study up. But don’t worry, this isn’t the hardcore wine learning. This is a bit of surfing the web.

Before you go out to dinner, check the restaurant website. Most will have an up-to-date wine list. If not, call or email. Someone should be happy to send it over.

Read it and research the pricing. Search for a couple bottles and see what the markup is. Some wine lists price flat, i.e. 3x for all wines, while others offer flexibility.

If there’s flexibility, that should indicate the opportunity for value.

With some research, pick 2-3 bottles you’d consider, because it’s always good to have a backup plan in case they run out.

Step 3: Ask For A Recommendation With Caution


Let me start with a bit of a soapbox:

  1. Food and wine pairing is overrated.
  2. Taste is subjective.
  3. Only you know what you like.

So, why on Earth are you letting someone else pick your wine?

Sommeliers are important, but most of us are dining without them in the restaurant. And based on what’s happened since the Pandemic, we’ve lost many great hospitality professionals with years of experience.

As a result, the recommendations aren’t as strong as they used to be. So, watch the language when you ask for recommendation.

If you hear:

  • “I like…”
  • “Most people…”
  • “This one is very good.”


Stick to your initial calls and and pick the wine you want.

Worst case scenario, you can only blame yourself.

Alright, the bottle is coming your way. How do you accept it with a dignified grace of a seasoned connoisseur?

In other words, time to act cool.

Step 4: Receive The Bottle The Right Way

This is where most people screw up.

When the server is pouring the wine, they aren’t asking you for your perception and tasting notes. You’re checking for one thing: flaws.

Wet newspaper. Vinegar. Burnt rubber. My schnoz has sniffed it all.

Before you taste, make sure you swirl and smell it.

If you’re afraid to swirl, cover the glass with your clean palm and swoosh it around. That way you can take a really good whiff.

If you’re unsure from the smell, give it a taste.

Same rules apply. Swish it around, swallow it down, and wait for anything odd to appear.

To give the all clear, a nod is all you need. You can also say something simple like, “this is fine.”

Now, you can return to wowing your dining company with tales of your latest expedition of big game hunting (or a troubled Costco run, if that’s more appropriate).

4 Steps To Stop Getting Fooled By Wine Lists

If you want to look like a wine pro the next time you go out to dinner, follow these four steps.

  1. Know the markup is 3-5x
  2. Check the wine menu for values beforehand
  3. Be ware the recommendation
  4. Sniff, swish and nod

You’ll fool everyone around you into thinking you’re a wine pro.

If you’re going out soon, I hope you apply these tips and let me know how your next wine ordering experience goes.

– Brian

P.S. What wine question do you have?

Reply to this email and let me know. I’ll answer it in an upcoming email.

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