The Terrifying Wine List

The world of wine is a vast and complex place, which makes it quite difficult to navigate at times. At worst, choosing wine can be quite an intimidating thing to do, especially when you find yourself put on the spot in the restaurant. But we don’t think it should be like this – and you certainly shouldn’t need a formal qualification to enjoy a glass of wine with your meal. To help make life a little easier, our good friend Mike Turner, WSET Level 4 Diploma student and renowned wine blogger, has kindly written this guest post all about what to do when faced with a wine list. We hope you enjoy the post as much as we did; let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


I’ll Have The Second Cheapest On The Menu!

We’ve all been there.  You go out for a night out with your mates, or your better half, and there on the table looking back at you is the dreaded 3rd menu.  It’s the terrifying wine list!

Blind panic sets in as the waiter pops over and asks if you’d like anything to drink during the evening.  You can palm them off with “er… just tap water for now, will have a look at the list in a second” but you know eventually you’re going to have to make a decision.  What do you do?  Scroll down the list, get to the bottom, one up, and boom!  Second cheapest on the menu!  But it doesn’t have to be like that.


Honestly it isn’t that hard.  Well, let’s rephrase that.  Knowing what every wine on the list is going to taste like and how it’ll complement each and every course you’ve ordered?  That’s hard!  But ordering a bottle of wine that you’ll enjoy for the evening just isn’t that bad.  Here are 5 tips to take the stress out of it…

1.  In times of crisis, go with what you know

It’s not the worst thing in the world to plump for something you’ve had before.  Wine and food are all about what you like, not what other people think you should be having.  If you like an Aussie Shiraz, or the classic bar fayre of Pinot Grigio, then so what?  Order it again!  Who cares?  You’ll like it and that’s what counts.

2. Ask the Waiter

It’s what they’re there for.  Ok, I worked as a waiter in a restaurant when I was 14 years old, and quite obviously wouldn’t have had the first idea how to answer a wine list question, but these days, staff are trained (or should be) to at least give you a recommendation or two.  They know the list better than you do.  Just ask them.


3. Beware the Bible

One of my biggest pet hates is when you go into a restaurant and the wine list is like a bible.  It’s showing off.  There’s no other reason to do it.  Don’t even attempt to read the thing.  Instead ask for the Sommelier (the wine waiter).  If the restaurant has a behemoth of a wine list then they should have one.  You tell them the food you’re having, the kind of budget you’re looking at (don’t feel weird about this), and maybe one or two examples of wines you’ve liked in the past.  This guy or girl gets paid to make the choice for you.  Make them earn it, trust me when I say that they love it!

4. Go By The Glass

Ok, the choice for by the glass wines is usually a lot smaller, and the price per ml is a bit more punchy, but at least you can do two things.  Firstly, you can pace yourself.   You don’t have to just nail a bottle of whatever turns up.  Secondly, you can try different things.  Didn’t like the first wine?  Try the second!  Loved the third one?  Why not get a bottle?  Makes life a lot easier!


5. There’s An App For That

Ok, I’m not exactly the most tech savvy fella in the world, but when it comes to wines I don’t need to be.  I’ve spent plenty of time working hard to become a fully fledged wine geek.  For everyone else though, there are quite a few tech savvy wine geeks out there who’ve come up with apps for your phones that will get you through.  I’ve seen some where you input what everyone on the table is having and an internal algorithm tells you the exact bottle of wine from the menu that will suit everyone!  That’s pretty impressive.  A great one to be having a go at in the UK is called Grappled.  Do check it out next time you’re off out.

Well look, I know that was a bit fast and furious, but hopefully the main point of it was to not get too stressed out about ordering your wine.  Help is always at hand to make sure you can enjoy yourself with the best liquid ever invented!




Mike Turner is UK Director of Operations at 20h33, the fastest growing Bordeaux wine brokerage in France.

Mike’s blog, Please Bring Me My Wine, documents his discovery of wines and his journey from novice to expert. It has become one of the fastest growing wine blogs in Europe and was recently placed in the Top 50 Global Wine Social Media commentators (Klout).

Follow him on Twitter and YouTube.


Thanks to Hotel du Vin, Winchester, for providing me with a quiet corner to take photographs. The hotel specialises in wine and has an amazing cellar but… Fear not. Their sommeliers are also on hand to help guide you through their extensive wine list. Don’t be shy!

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