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Jul 23, 2012 06:05 AM

Ordering Wine in a Restaurant

Please help me order wine at a restaurant. I am new to drinking wine. To me, most are bitter, but maybe in time I'll learn to appreciate the different types of wine. I have asked waiters for wine suggestions, but I haven't had much luck. I do like white Zifandel. My favorite though was Chateau La Salle, but they don't sell it any longer. The local store suggested a wine named Red Cat. I love it but it is not listed in any of the restaurants in my area. Would someone please suggest a wine that I might like? I've learned so much on this site. Thank you so much! Mary

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  1. It is hard to recommend wine for someone else; taste varies so much between people.

    (I'll focus on France, I'm less familiar with other region of the world)
    For white wines, have a look at "sweeter" Riesling (German or Alsacian) or some sweeter Vouvray wines (French, from the Loire region).

    For red wines, There are a lot of young fruity wines from the Beaujolais region and from the Loire region

    Also, try to find a local wine bar that has a good selection of wine by the glass and go there and taste, tell them you would like to taste different kind of wines and if they would pour smaller quantity (or go there with other friends and share the wine).


    1. Forgive my presumption, but you are not ready to order wine in a restaurant, unless you order White Zin.

      Another wine you like is Red Cat - this is made from a hybridized native American grape the Red Catawba. You are very unlikely to find any similar wines available on 'mainstream' wine lists.

      The likely similarity between the two wines you say you like is they are sweetish and low in tannins (bitter flavor)

      So go ahead and order White Zin. It's best to order wines you enjoy drinking. Even if you're at a steak house, you'll like the White Zin better than a big Cal Cab so you will enjoy it and your meal more.

      You can find a lot of sweetish Rieslings suitable for the table too. Try some of these at home.

      My general point is, because you have not yet developed a taste for dry table wines, you don't/won't like 99% of what will be available at restaurtants, so why would you want to buy it? As you try different wines, your tastes will change some as you find 'I like this / I don't like that'.

      Some may disaprove of my next suggestion, but here it is - for red wines, try some "jug wines" Gallo Burgundy and that ilk. These will be a bit sweeter and softer (less bitter) than most red table wines in a regular bottle, but will use some of the same grapes used in making premium table wines. These will be transition wines to take you to the next step which could be a wine like Yellow Tail Shiraz from Australia, which I read has a sweeter finish.

      6 Replies
      1. re: FrankJBN

        Agreed . . . on all counts. Would also suggest the OP try something like Kendall-Jackson VR Chardonnay, which also contains some sweetness.

        1. re: FrankJBN


          To the OP, if you prefer sweeter wines try these: whites: Gwurtztraminer & Reisling (be sure to tell the server that you prefer sweet wines), Moscato and some fruity roses. Oh, and vinho verde, which is a Portuguese white wine that is young and fruity and has a slight effervescence that is nice. AND it's lower in alcohol too.

          And for reds, I'd suggest Lambrusco although you may not find it in too many restaurants.

          1. re: lynnlato

            i think your vinho verde recommendation is brilliant, lynniato.

            1. re: westsidegal

              I actually somewhat disagree on the Vinho Verde rec. I think when someone likes White Zinfandel there are three possibilities that they like:
              1. Lots of youthful fruit notes
              2. The lack of an acidic lemon/lime sour type sensation
              3. The lack of lots of oak

              I think wines like Albarino, Vinho Verde, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc can meet #1 and #3. But they certainly don't meet #2.

              I really liked riesling and chardonnay when I started drinking whites. And I couldn't figure out why I liked them both. I came to the realization that I really really don't like the sour, puckering sensation of Pinot Grigio or unbalanced Sauvignon Blancs.

              So I think Vinho Verde can be a good rec, but it certainly depends and liking White Zinfandel doesn't really naturally jump to that as naturally as say an Alsace Gewurtazaminer or Riesling that hits all the qualities of a White Zinfandel in my opinion.

              1. re: westsidegal

                Thanks! Something about the effervescence and the low alcohol, I think would appeal to OP's palate and perhaps help them transition to other whites. In the same way that moscato d'asti does the same for others (although I hate to recommend moscato).

                I have been seeing lambrusco all over the place lately. More so the secco, but still, I think it's making a comeback. Is that a good thing? The jury is still out for me...

            2. re: FrankJBN


              Thank you for educating me on Red Cat. I can now see the tie-in, but would have had to Google, to understand the wine.

              I do agree that the OP needs to spend a bit more time with a really mixed-case of wines at home. No sense in paying restaurant prices, for wines that are not to their liking.

              A good wine shop should be able to put together a mixed-case of wines, likely to be seen on local wine lists, to allow the OP to explore more.

              With millions of wines, and 10's of thousands of varietals on the globe, it is likely that some "winners" can be found.


            3. I think the prior recommendations of sweeter wines from Alsace and Germany (Riesling or Gewurtzaminer) are good suggestions. If you're wandering into a restaurant and they have the following options, none may be to your palate but for a very hopelessly general idea:

              Sauvignon Blanc - Tropical fruits, lots of green apple pucker type acidity, very very fruity but does not end sweet

              Cabernet Sauvignon - Deep red fruits, lots of wood type flavors and a bit of bitterness at the end.

              Merlot - Deep red fruits, softer and more plush than Cabernet Sauvignon still may have a hint of bitterness at the end.

              Pinot Noir - Bright zippy cherry fruit, floral and earthy usually less tannins (bitterness at the end) than Cab or Merlot but not always.

              Chardonnay - can be made in many different styles. Three main ones:
              California oaked - stone fruits/tropical fruits, buttery, creamy with a bit of spicy/wood notes at the end.
              White Burgundy (france) - green apple tartness, slight butter fullness, spicy/wood notes at the end.
              Unoaked - green apple, maybe some stone fruits, slight softness. Less rich and woodsy than the rest.

              In general, wines from the U.S. or New Zealand will have more fruit than wines from Europe but there's TONS of exceptions to that rule, and just because they taste of more fruit does not mean they won't finish bitter or acidic.

              1. Most restaurants with wine lists now have at least 2 Blush or Rose wines. Ask for a taste. Reislings are also on most wine lists. Another way to go is to try sparkling wines. Most Champagne will be to dry for you but Proseccos and or Cavas will likely please. It is very easy to feel intimidated, but a good server will take the time to help. Lower priced California Chardonnays are usually a bit more fruity and "sweet" than French versions, so try them also. The suggestion of a wine bar outing is also a great one.

                10 Replies
                1. re: budnball

                  Thanks everyone for your suggestions! Thank you budnball for your advice.

                  1. re: marylbk

                    I agree that Chardonnay would probably be a pretty good bet.

                    If you see Chenin Blanc on the menu that might be a good one to try.

                    Seasonal but beaujolais nouveau would probably be one that you like. You might see it in early November on menus.

                    If you mention some restaurants that you might be ordering wine in that would help.... especially if they have online wine lists.

                    I think it would be a good idea to go to a store and look for the small bottles [like the ones on airplanes] and buy a few to try at home. Barefoot makes some approachable wines in that size and the investment is so small that it's no big deal if you don't like it. Barefoot Chardonnay is easy to drink and a little sweet. They also make a Sauvignon Blanc. Woodbridge and Corbett Canyon also have Chardonnays that you might like in the small format. And I think those are pretty typical of the wine you might get if you just order a house wine Chardonnay in a casual restaurant or bar.

                    If you have a wine in a restaurant and think is might be too sour or bitter try taking a bite of food and then a sip of wine. Some wines don't really taste as good alone as they do when you have the flavors of food in your mouth but I don't think salad would work that well for this approach.

                    1. re: knowspicker

                      I think a nice fruity gewurztraminer would also be a good pick for this poster.

                      1. re: knowspicker

                        Great suggestion about the food and I'm surprised it hasn't been brought up earlier. My father drank only wine coolers for many years. A few years ago he started enjoying white zin. I introduced him to some rieslings with some residual sugar and he enjoys them but that's as dry as he wants to go. Last time I visited, I brought an Oregon pinot for me and some friends to enjoy with a grilled grass-fed steak topped with grilled onions. We started eating and Dad asked for a sip of my wine. "I like it as long as there is food in front of me." He is unlikely to open a bottle of dry red to have on its own but the food made all the difference for him. That happened one other time as well and I want to say it was with a younger Rioja which might be another step a bit down the road for you. Some of them have little tannin and are pretty approachable.

                        In any case, gewurztraminer and rieslings are great places to start. I hope you enjoy your wine and do report back as you find things that you do and don't like!

                    2. re: budnball

                      Good Rieslings are a great choice. Not only are they food-friendly, many have a perceived "sweetness," that is usually the fruit aspect of the wine. Also, until you get to the upper-end, many are really good "deals," and will not break the bank.

                      They are usually overlooked, and not just by wine "beginners," but by some fairly serious folk.

                      We're doing an even with Dr. Loosen next week, as we love Rieslings!


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        "many have a perceived "sweetness," that is usually the fruit aspect of the wine"

                        You don't think the "perceived sweetness" in many Rieslings is the result of residual sugar, especially in those that won'r break the bank?

                        1. re: FrankJBN

                          Not that Mr. Hunt needs me to speak for him but NO.

                          1. re: Chinon00

                            You speak well for me.

                            Thank you,


                          2. re: FrankJBN

                            In a California Riesling? Probably true. It's r.s. In Rieslings from Alsace, parts of Germany, Austria? Probably not, as Chinon says.

                            1. re: FrankJBN

                              In some cases, this is an RS element, but not in all. Many think "sweet," when there is little to no RS in the wine.


                        2. I must have similar tastes to OP . . . I *definitely* prefer sweet wines, the sweeter, the better. OP should also try some dessert wines!