Worst wine deals at a restaurant usually are at lowest end of the wine list.
Restaurants may put plonk wine at lowest price point. Real purpose: help sell second lowest-priced bottle, where mark ups can soar to 300 percent. When served cold (so you can’t taste it), you have been cork screwed.
Usually there is a blockbuster wine atop the list. It’s a show-off; establishment does not expect to sell much of it. Price may not be double, but making $40 or $50 on a bottle that costs “only” $100 still is comfortable for restaurant’s bottom line.
Values usually lie in the middle. Which should you order?
Ask for help at a good restaurant. They know what pairs with their entrees; they want you to enjoy and come back. Give a price range and listen to their suggestions. If it works, come back. If it doesn’t, try another restaurant next time.
• Start with sparkling. Pairs with everything, lifts mood, often comes in splits—half bottles (375 ml)—so you can enjoy it then pair a second wine with main course.
• Pair countries. Italian food, Italian wine; French food, French wine; American steak, robust California red.
• Pair versatile wines with assorted entrees. Sauvignon Blanc with fish, chicken, pasta, pork. Pinot Noir with salmon, chicken, pork, lighter red meats. Order two different bottles if there are more than two diners.
Wait, why not order by the glass? Everyone gets what they want, seems to cost less. We’ll give that strategy a swirl next week.
• Martini & Rossi Asti. Sparkling; not too sweet or too dry. Wine store $12; local restaurant $25.
• Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, balanced citrus flavors. New Zealand. Wine store $14; local restaurant $29.
• Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel. Raspberry, black cherry, supple tannins. California Wine store $14; local restaurant $27.
• Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005; magnum. Big, bold, classic. California. Wine store $160; local restaurant $215.