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Ordering wine - what to know?


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I'm planning a dinner in NYC for my husband's birthday & was thinking about Sparks. He loves steak & the reviews here seem mostly positive... My question is, altough we both like wine, I'm always stumped when ordering off a large wine menu like Sparks would offer.

What are the basics when ordering a bottle or more likely a half bottle when you don't have a clue what you are looking at? Unfortunately budget is also a concern, but I hate to just zero in on the least expensive bottle.... if I take the waiters suggestion, do you tell them ahead of time you only want to spend x amount of dollars??

(FYI - I say half bottle because I'm pregnant, not because I'm cheap!)

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bp1123: repeat after me: "It's my party, and I can specify whatever I want." Or, as Hollywood pointed out, your husband can, since it's really HIS party.

What I mean is, the more information you can give the person (waiter, sommelier) you're asking for advice, the better the advice will be for you. If you can tell him/her some of the wines you enjoy, or the flavors you like in wine, that will point the way to felicity. Announce what you will be eating, so you can get a wine that will not be too strong or too weak for the food. And by all means, specify a price range: otherwise you may be setting yourself up for a nasty surprise.

A good restaurant with a good -- and big -- list should be able to give you good advice; just ask. :biggrin:

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There are so many good wines out there. Not toomany restaurants, have outstanding half bottle selections, however. If in doubt and the by-the-glass suggestion is not satisfactory, I would suggest consulting the sommalier They should have a good idea of where the values are on the menu and be reasonably adept atpairing with menu items. If you don't like the price point suggested, be honest and ask for something more economical.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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I usually tell them what I'd like to spend, in a broad range. Or you can point to something you are curious about on the list, and after hearing his opinon on that, ask for his recommendations within +/- $x of that.

Don't be afraid to ask for the sommelier. Often the waiter thinks they know stuff, but the best advice is from the sommelier.

If you like California wine, avoid the 2000 (I'm talking Cabernet here). Right now, many restaurants have 99 listed, but are out of the 99 and will bring by a 2000 without disclosing (a shameful practice). 98 is something I steer away from , but if a sommelier recommends a 98 Northern Cal Cab, I'll consider it (but not a 2000).

The bottle with the biggest markup on a restaurants wine list is usually the second cheapest bottle; that's what people often buy.

The wine list is here, but it may not be current.

Spark's wine list

If you want some suggestions, let us know your price range.


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That's a great question. I read a wonderful article on this topic by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. I'm going to paste it here (hope I'm not breaking any eGullet rules...)

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

December 25, 2002, Wednesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section F; Page 6; Column 1; Dining In, Dining Out/Style Desk

LENGTH: 1205 words

HEADLINE: A New Way to Find a Bottle in a Haystack



NOT long ago, I realized I needed professional help. Even though I have

written about wine off and on for 15 years, every time I scanned a wine list I

got the same sinking, desperate feeling.

There was a reason: the lists forced me to make choices without sufficient

information. Picking between roast chicken and braised veal is easy; selecting

from a long list of wines, when I am familiar with only a few, is not. And

asking for help, at least for a control freak like me, is like asking for

directions: it takes strength.

Driven by frustration and embarrassment, I devised a novel solution. Sitting

at L'Impero in Tudor City with a friend, I ignored the wine list entirely.

Instead, I asked the sommelier to bring us a "fruity red, but one with some

structure, something interesting, and less than $50." He positively beamed, and

returned with "a personal favorite," a pinot nero from Friuli that was actually


In restaurants, I began to explain what kind of wine I wanted and how much I

was willing to pay. ...

[in the interests of complying with both the laws regarding copyright infringement and the ethical issues invloved in reposting text not in the public domain, I have, after consultation with the original poster truncated this article to include its main theme and not the full and interesting details. The full article should be available in the NY Times archives. There's no reason to delete the post in it's entirety, but we do ask members to read the parts of the agreement dealing with copyright infringement. --Bux]


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Just in case jg488's post of the NY Times story gets deleted, for the story in its place, drink deeply here. Mark Bittman's story on finding "a bottle in a haystack." It is indeed a helpful article. :smile:

(Yes, actually, jg, you are kind of breaking an eGullet rule by including the whole story, but you'll learn :wink: )

Edited by Suzanne F (log)
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I'll make this easy for you: I was there a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised to see the 1999 Ridge Santa Cruz Cabernet on the list for $45 -- a very good bargain and a delicious wine.

I'd call ahead to make sure they still have it.



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i'd say go to the wine shop and get something you want. an eighty dollar bottle would here be over 2C vs. $30 corkage.

Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons: That is all there is to distinguish us from the other Animals.


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