How to Read a Restaurant Wine List


Gone are the days of matching your wine to food. Wine now is all about liking the taste. Many restaurants now have gone to what is called a Progressive wine list. This type of list categorizes wines by type or flavor rather than by price or by grape variety or wine origin. This article will teach you how to read this type of list and determine which type of wine you want to drink. There is something for every palate.

Things You'll Need

  • Reading Glasses, if you require them

How to Read a Restaurant Wine List

  • Choose your wine. Wine lists today are grouped by type or flavor. On most lists wine is listed in sequential order starting with the sweetest and most mild wine progressing to the fuller and drier in taste wines. The first step is having an idea of what type of wine you want to drink. White or red? Sparkling? Sweet? Dry White? Dry Red? Once you decide, the wine list will help you choose the perfect wine for your evening.

  • Begin at the top of the list. First check out the champagnes or bubbles which you will find listed in order from mildest to strongest. Then are the sweet white wines which are commonly called blush wines and will start with the sweetest ending with the least sweet. These will be your aromatic and fruity wines including the White Zinfandels and Reislings.

  • Move on to the dry light to medium intensity white wines which are bright and crisp with bolder flavors. These wines will be listed from mildest to strongest and will include Fume Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. For something a little more intense move on to the dry, medium to full, intense white wines. These wines will be listed in order from milder to strongest. This is where you will find Chardonnay and perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc or two with a very fruity, luscious, strong finish.

  • Move on to the red wines. To begin, you will find the dry light to medium intensity red wines. This includes Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz and some of the milder Cabernet Sauvignons. These wines will range from fruity with a light body to a powerful fruit taste. The mild and mellow wines are the Bordeaux wines. For something a little richer move over to the dry medium to full intensity red wines. This is where you will find most of the Cabernet Sauvignons and Red Zinfandel. Most lists will also have Meritage and Syrah wines. These wines will be soft, spicy, fruity and bold in flavor/finish.

  • Finally, the above tips are the easiest way to read a wine list. As always, if you have any questions your server should be able to assist you, or in finer restaurants, ask the Sommelier (someone who has had serious wine training). The easiest way to read this type of wine list is to find a wine that you have had before and then go up or down in flavor depending on your mood.

Tips & Warnings

  • Most restaurants tend to list dessert wines or ports on the dessert menu. While some may be listed progressively, it may be best to ask your server depending on your tastes.
  • Never be afraid to ask for a sample. Most restaurants will happily let you try a sample of any wine by the glass.
  • Remember that the person who orders the wine is also the person who will be presented the wine and expected to taste the first sip.
  • Wines near each other will be similar in taste so feel free to experiment and try something new because you will probably enjoy most of the wines in this category.
  • Be wary of consuming too much wine. After two or three glasses, they all tend to taste the same.
  • Movies depict people always smelling the wine corks but this is inaccurate. You should be checking the wine cork for moisture or mold. This is a sure sign that the wine is bad or sour.

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