Okay. You've decided to splurge and are going to have an evening out with the Mrs. which will feature dinner at a good restaurant with wine. Oh. My. God. You think to yourself: I am going to have to select wine. What to do? What to do?
When ever I am going to plan a night out which features wine I ALWAYS look the restaurant up on the web and search for a copy of their wine list. Generally, the web based wine list won't be 100% accurate, but it will usually be 80% accurate and that is good enough for my purposes.
Even though I have sipped and sampled hundreds of wines over the past several years there is NO WAY that I can remember which wine and which vintage are hits and which are misses. And, I'd feel like a fool were I to show up with my dog-eared wine log comparing my favorites with their listing. That is why I consult the online version first. At least I'll have a couple of wines in mind when I arrive.
As I have noted before there are several keys to understanding how to buy wine in a restaurant:
1. There is always garbage on the wine list. Your job is to NOT buy the garbage.
2. There is a lot of good expensive wine on the wine list. Pay attention to #1 above, as some of the expensive wine is bad.
3. The wine director will spend the overwhelming majority of his/her time populating the lower priced end of the wine list.
Keeping #1, #2 and #3 in mind I typically begin my search at the lower priced end of the wine list. The first thing I do is to discount the obvious bulk wine in sheep's clothing such as Sutter Home and Gallo.
The next thing I do is seek out the bazaar named wines and eliminate them. I know it isn't very scientific and I don't have good data to back up my decision. You know the sort of brand to which I am referring: Fat Bastard or Ugly Blonde.
I also eliminate critter wines. These are attempts by the vintner to sway your wine buying judgement because there is a cute animal on the label. Run. Run very quickly away.
If there is anything left on the list: I look for a brand that I have enjoyed before; I look for French, Australian, Californian or Washington state origin; I look for standard varietals.
There is a lot of good, reasonably priced wines to be found - even at restaurants. You just need to do a little homework before you head out the door and be ready to dig through the low-priced selections when you get there.