Everything you wanted to know about wine lists but were afraid to ask | Wine
AAs a wine writer, you might imagine that I enjoy seeing myself handing over the wine list in restaurants, but, like many of you, I suspect that I’m generally moaning to myself. Finding a wine that everyone will enjoy and that goes with everything you eat is a difficult task, and even if you spot one that you think will do the trick, you still have to hope that everyone will like it too. that you have to pay for it.
Remember, it’s often not a bad plan to just order the cheapest wine on the list at any restaurant that cares about the quality of their wine offering, because it’s likely to be more than decent. I remember once going to three Michelin star Michel Bras in France to find a local wine for just €15 (about £12.50), an object lesson for other restaurants that take a lot too seriously.
My approach is simple: I almost always order something that I don’t recognize or haven’t tasted, because it’s one of the best ways to discover new wines and get a chance – which we don’t have to taste them – to try them with food. You can mitigate the risk by ordering by the glass, although many restaurants, including The Old Pharmacy in Bruton, Somerset, where I discovered the delicious L’Abrunet Negre in today’s pick, will give you a sip at to try. And get rid of the idea that sommeliers are out to scam you: most will be happy to recommend you, and it’s up to you to indicate what style of wine you like and what you can afford.
A lot of the wines in the hottest new restaurants these days are natural, so you also have to get your mind off the idea that they’re all funky and weird. A few will, of course, but most will not. As with the food, it’s more a matter of your previous experience. Wines like Chile’s La Patagua in today’s selection may seem unfamiliar because they’re unfiltered, but they’re truly delicious. Again, ask your server if you are unsure. If you’ve never tried natural wine before, just say so and ask for something that isn’t too scary. I really don’t think people have enough conversations about wine in restaurants – maybe because they’re nervous about appearing to lack knowledge – but being in a good restaurant or wine bar is a great way to learn.
Finally, look for older vintages on any listing. By and large, supermarkets sell the newest vintage, but good restaurants and pubs often pick up odd bottles and bin bits for customers who they know will appreciate them. Be one of them.
Four bottles you might find on a wine list
Patagua 2021 £9 lola.co.uk, £9.05 Les Caves de Pyrène, 14.5%. Delicious, a slightly hazy Sémillon from Chile, exceptionally. A perfect bar wine white.
Domaine d’Escausses Gaillac Cuvée des Drilles 2019 £10.90 Joseph Barnes Wines, 13.5%. Dry, with a touch of bitter cherry, this red from the southwest of France is a classic bistro wine that will pair equally well with charcuterie and steak frites.
Frisach L’Abruet Nègre Terra Alta 2020 £14 littlewine.co, £14.40 Unexplored Wines, 13.5%. A happy and juicy Catalan red, a mixture of garnacha and carinena, which will go wonderfully with tapas.
Domaine de la Semellerie Chinon Rosé 2020 £11.99 Virgin wines, 12.5%. Even at this time of year, there are sunny days that call for a glass of rosé, and this pretty and light Loire is just right.