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Feb 20, 2010 06:53 PM

How to choose bottles of wine when doing a tasting menu?

I am taking my bf to Bouley for the tasting menu, but won't be doing the wine pairing because it is too expensive.

How do I go about choosing a bottle of wine that will complement multiple courses? I'm into wine but nowhere close to being a connoisseur. Frankly, I'm a little apprehensive about being embarrassed asking the sommelier this question - since clearly, I care about having good wine but can't afford to have the top-notch ones recommended with the tasting menu.

Or should I consider half-bottles or even simply ordering by the glass so that there will be a little bit of variety throughout the meal? I figure even those alternatives will be cheaper than the wine pairing.

Any advice on what to do? Or better yet, how to ask the sommelier this in a tactful fashion?

163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. don't be the least bit embarrassed or apprehensive about asking for an affordable/moderately priced suggestion. the sommeliers i know all appreciate it when a customer gives them an idea of what they're looking to spend, because they don't want to offer suggestions that could potentially make you uncomfortable. it's perfectly acceptable to be direct and tell them what you'd like to spend - whether it's $15 or $150. it also helps if you give them an idea of your typical wine preferences so that they can recommend something that will not only work well with the food, but also appeal to your palate.

    if you still don't feel comfortable with the idea, one of Wolfgang Puck's sommeliers offers some interesting and useful advice:

    don't stress about it. enjoy the meal!

    3 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      But I'd rather not have to specify a cost range at the dinner table... can I instead ask about a wine on the list that is in my price range to indicate to the sommelier what sort of prices I'm look at ?

      1. re: stah00

        absolutely - if you read the article i linked to, that's what the sommelier at Cut Steakhouse suggests. she says that whenever a customer points to a wine they're "considering" and asks her to suggest something similar, she *knows* they're actually giving her their price point.

        1. re: stah00

          Actually, that is the best way to do it. Point to something priced in your range that you are familiar with and say something like, "I'd like to try something that will go well with the tasting menu in the range of this." Offer that you enjoyed the wine you indicated but would like their advice on something different that you haven't tried and is in the indicated range.

      2. The more information you give your sommelier about your preferences, the better he or she will be able to help you. If those preferences include price, it might be better for you to at least hint at the notion.

        A creative sommelier will be able to help you. Whether it be splitting the wine pairings into tasting portions, or using other wines by the glass, or using half bottles, or simply finding that one bottle that fits the entire menu appropriately, or maybe making one substitution with a wine whose cost is out of line with the others, you can only benefit from letting him or her know. A restaurant of Bouley's caliber and reputation should be able to accommodate you.

        I would call the the host desk and let them know your dilemma and they can easily make a note in your reservation. Or simply let someone know when you arrive.

        My simple advice: just trust your sommelier. Most of these people like what they do, and especially when it comes to being creative.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mengathon

          Just get a bottle of Pinot Noir. Should work with most dishes.

          1. re: mengathon

            One of the best dining expereinces I've had so far was an anniversary dinner at Orson in SF. We both had Tasting Menus and at the time there were no specific "parings" with each dish.
            We told our waiter Christopher that we'd leave it up to him what to pick, we'd like to split a glass with each dish and we ended up having a full glass each with dessert.
            Everything was spot on, just enough and the conversation about the different wines lasted throughout the meal. I loved being able to try several wines and expereince their pairing with the food.
            I have never before or since left such a generous tip ($60), but he and the team behind him deserved it.

          2. I took the same approach that you are thinking when I dined at Per Se. Here's how I handled it: I told the waiter and steward that simply did not want 8 half glasses, but at the same time, I wanted wines that paired well with the food on the table. They heard our menu choices and then brought half glasses of champagne, then a half bottle of Condrieu and glasses of pinot noir. 2.5 glasses each, and it worked beautifully.

            1. You should ask, that what he's there for. He may also tell you of any deals that they have.