5 Money Saving Tips for Ordering Wine at Restaurants

We all love to eat out, but that doesn’t mean we have to loose our shirts when it comes to the liquid refreshment part of the evening…

The next time you’re staring down the business end of a wine list, follow these 5 money saving tips and you’re sure to have a few bucks left over in your pocket for dessert.

Play your cards right and there may even be a cheese plate in your future? That’s right, I said “cheese plate” baby!

TIP # 1. Pass on glass

Typically, restaurants price their single glasses high enough to cover the entire cost of a bottle! Does $12-$14 ring a bell? Yes, it’s a business not a charity, but what’s not acceptable is being served old wine that’s been sitting around way too long (happens all the time) and to that we have 1 word: “Booh!” If the idea of buying an entire bottle is a bit daunting, go with a ½ bottle, or carafe. Do the math, it’s worth it!

TIP # 2. Say No, to the second cheapest

Hey, we all know NOT to buy the cheapest wine on the list. But, guess what? Restaurants do too, so they pick and price wines at the second cheapest level with higher profit margins for them because that’s where the money is. Think twice before automatically going for the second cheapest, it’s likely not the best value on the list.

TIP # 3. We’re not drinking $%# Chardonnay!

Chardonnay is arguably America’s favorite wine. It’s easy to drink, versatile and comfortable, like an old shoe. It is for these very reasons that Chardonnay tends to be overpriced on most wine lists. Word to the wise, think twice before ordering that Chardonnay, take a minute to step out of your comfort zone and try something new! Preferably from a country, or region you’ve never tried before.

TIP # 4. B.Y.O.B

Make sure you check with the restaurant in advance to figure out if they even allow this and do inquire about the corkage fee. In some States, this practice may even be illegal, so do your homework. If all systems are a go, it’s a great way to enjoy your favorite wine, or two at a restaurant. PS. Make sure you offer a glass to the sommelier, owner, or chef as a gesture of good will!

TIP # 5. Pay tribute to the house

In the US, house wines are typically avoided, largely due to quality perceptions (almost the opposite to the way our friends in Europe roll). In reality, house wines are normally great deals and in most cases, pretty fun and delightful. If you’re dinning at a restaurant that takes pride in their wine list, it’s likely their house wine is a good deal and a fine choice. Make sure you go for a bottle or carafe if you do!

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5 Easy Tips to Help You Pair Food with Wine

Ever ate something really spicy then washed it down with a nice warm Coke?

I can still painfully remember my first childhood food and drink pairing lesson. Hmm…guess this explains why I hated Chemistry.

Flash forward…

In reality, not everything goes well together, regardless of how much you might love it!

Making an unwise food and drink pairing decision will impact the overall taste and flavor experience of your meal.

This being said, who am I to tell you which wine to pair with your meal?? Drink what you like, when you like, is probably the first lesson you’ll learn from anyone that knows anything about wine. Can’t say I disagree, but like with anything in life, a few common sense guidelines never hurt. Hey, it’s why we don’t wear our pajamas to work…right? Right?

SO HELP ME ALREADY?!

Firstly, start thinking about wine like food…

Still with me?

Enter Acids and Tannins…

What are Acids?

Acids are important components of winemaking that influence: color, balance, taste and preservation. They add sharpness to a wine’s flavor and can be described as that prickly, mouthwatering sensation you feel on your tongue whenever you drink wine. Kinda zingy and tart, like sucking on lemon, or lime.

A wine with too much acidity will taste excessively sour and sharp. A wine with too little acidity will taste flabby and flat, with less defined flavor.

What are Tannins?

In winemaking, tannins are natural chemical compounds found in grape skins, stems, seeds and even the wine barrel itself, particularly if it’s a new one. Tannins affect the color, texture, structure and preservation of a wine. How can you identify them? Think that pleasantly bitter, drying, puckering feeling that rolls down the middle of your tongue almost coating your mouth when you drink wine. Similar in sensation to what you experience when drinking tea that’s been steeped for way too long.

WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT TANNINS AND ACIDS IN WINE PAIRING?

Pairing Tip #1: Acids love Acid

When it comes to pairing, try the ‘Acids love acid’ theory as a first rule of thumb. If you think a squeeze of lemon, or lime would take a dish to the next level i.e. Roasted snapper – it’s very likely that dish will pair well with a wine that is more on the acidic side. Again, acids love acid.

Pairing Tip #2: Tannins love fat

As a second rule of thumb, try the ‘Tannins love fat’ theory. If a dish has some fat i.e. Rib-eye steak, it’s very likely it will pair well with a wine that is more on the tannic side. Why? Because fats help balance and soften tannins. Easy right?

So, if you’ve got fat – pair with wines that have higher tannic levels!

Want more?

Here are some other great pairing rules of thumb!

OTHER PAIRING RULES OF THUMB

Pairing Tip #3: Dominant Flavor is King

Whites with fish; reds with meat? We’ve all heard this at some point. It’s not a great tip. Why? Because we rarely just eat meat, or fish without some form of preparation: sauces, stews, stir-fries, casseroles etc…You need to factor in the overall dominant flavor of the dish as a whole, and not just it’s main meat, or vegetable component.

Pairing Tip #4: Spicy loves Sugar

For anyone that knows food and loves to cook, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. When something is spicy, we can temper and mellow those flames with sugar. Same principle would apply to wine pairing. Go for a slightly sweeter wine with those hot and spicy dishes.

Pairing Tip #5: Sweet loves Sweeter

Lastly, when it comes to deserts, which are generally sweet, go for a wine that is even sweeter. It will greatly enhance the richness and flavor of the dish and the wine!

How To Tell If Your Wine Is Corked

WHAT IS A CORKED WINE?

A “corked” wine is a wine that has become tainted by the presence of TCA (trichloroanisole), rendering it pretty much undrinkable, unless of course you’re into the aromas and flavors of damp cardboard, or a wet dog?

HOW DOES A WINE BECOME CORKED? 

TCA, or Trichloroanisole is a natural by-product of a common airborne fungus (found in corks) and is formed when this fungi comes in contact with certain chlorides typically found in bleaches and other winery sanitation/sterilization products.

TCA can be transferred from the cork to the wine, or through the cork to the wine.

Studies have shown that between 7-8% of wines bottled with natural cork can fall victim to cork taint.

IS IT SAFE TO DRINK CORKED WINE?

Good news! Though the intended aromas and flavors of a “corked” wine are significantly impaired, and in most cases the wine is pretty darn unpalatable, drinking a “corked” wine is harmless.

HOW TO DETECT A CORKED WINE

Follow these three common sense rules of thumb and you’ll be sitting pretty:

Rule 1: If it smells bad, don’t drink it

If it smells like damp cardboard, a wet dog or musty sweaters – don’t drink it! It’s probably “corked”. And NO, don’t smell the cork! It’s a myth! Smell the wine instead! Smelling the cork is no indication of a tainted wine. The only indication a cork can provide is: (a) whether the wine was stored properly, (b) who produced it and (c) the vintage year.

Rule 2: If it tastes bad, stop drinking it

This one is a bit of a no brainer. If you don’t like the taste of something, why would you continue drinking it?! Now, this may not necessarily mean that the wine is “corked”, but if it does taste like damp cardboard, it probably is!

Rule 3: Always ask questions

Don’t be shy. If you have questions, or suspect a wine may be “corked”, speak up! Have it changed immediately. Most fine retailers and restaurants will graciously exchange a bottle, or glass of wine that appears to be “corked”.