Picking the best wine in a restaurant should be easy if you bear in mind these timeless tips

 
Paul Hammond
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Even wine professionals usually rely on sommeliers when dining (Source: Getty)
How do you make sure you pick the right wine when the list looks like an encyclopaedia? Here are some easy tips to bear in mind for those of us who don’t have a PhD in oenology.

DON’T DRINK THE HOUSE PLONK

Restaurateurs apply the highest mark-ups to house wines, which tend to be the cheapest on the menu. Mark-ups on house wines tend to be by a factor of three, so if it costs £15, it is probably a £5 bottle. Duty on wine is £2.05, and VAT is a further 20 per cent. Deduct this, packaging, logistics and supply and you’ll see that the winemaker received around 15p for producing that bottle. As the price of the bottle increases, even by £10, the money spent on making it increases exponentially. Moreover, the mark-up taken by the restaurant decreases as you climb the list. Spending a little more will go a long way.

KNOW YOUR VINTAGES

This is highly underrated as vintage variation matters, especially in the old world. In a great vintage the quality of the wine will be much higher. For example, 2010 is universally good across most of Europe.

BRING YOUR OWN

Call ahead and ask the restaurant if they allow you to BYO. Some restaurants will allow you to bring a wine you love and enjoy it with your meal for the fraction of the cost of buying it there.

LOOK OUT FOR “SECOND” WINES

“Second” wines are products from leading estates made using a selection of vines that did not make it into their most famous “first” wines. Almost all leading chateaux in Bordeaux produce second wines: for example, the leading Bordeaux Chateau, Montrose, makes a second wine called La Dame de Montrose. Second wines derive from the same vineyards, benefit from the same technology and winemaking know-how, but cost a fraction of the price.

ASK FOR THE SOMMELIER

Sommeliers are charged with curating their wine lists and should be intimate with each one. They will happily advise which wines are tasting well and which ones offer the best bang for your buck. Even wine professionals usually rely on sommeliers when dining.

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