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A neophyte's guide to ordering wine

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By S. Irene Virbila
Los Angeles Times
Published:
Give me a wine list, I know what to do. But confronted with a list of unfamiliar craft beers, whether I ask for advice or just randomly pick for myself, too often I end up with something too fruity or too hoppy or over-the-top.
That's because, in terms of beer, I'm a novice, unfamiliar even with the vocabulary used to describe the brews and unable to convincingly convey what it is I do like.
I imagine many diners feel equally helpless when handed a wine list. Some people just play it safe and order their favorite label. But what's the point? Part of the fun of going out is discovering something new.
If the sight of a big complicated wine list, or any wine list at all, has you quaking in your boots, you're not alone. How to make sense of it all? Here's a few ideas.
Take your time.Don't rush into anything. If your dining companion can't wait to throw some wine down, order him or her a glass of wine while you take your time looking over the list.
Look for wines that you already know and love, not to order them necessarily, but to get a reading on the sommelier's palate. If you see a number of your favorite bottles, that's the green light to take a chance on something you don't know.
The best way to understand pricing is to look up a wine you've bought before. A typical markup is 2 to 2˝ times retail, sometimes more.
Generally, the pricier the bottle, the lower the markup, but unless you've got the budget to buy higher end Barolo or Bordeaux or California Cabernet, that's pretty much a moot point.
You want to find that sweet spot where you get the best bang for the buck -- and a wine you'll be thrilled to drink.
In general, unless you want to taste a number of different wines, don't order wine by the glass; the markup is much higher. (Wine bars are a different case; I'm talking about restaurants here.)
Wines by the carafe and half-bottles are usually a good bet.
If the sommelier or whoever put the wine list together is working the floor, talk to him or her. Try to communicate what you like.
Be prepared to tell the sommelier (and the world) what you're willing to spend. You can just come right out and say you're looking for something for less than $50.
Or you can be subtle and ask the sommelier about different wines at your price point and hope he or she takes the hint.
But there is absolutely nothing embarrassing about asking what is interesting in the $30 range.
Don't be afraid to tell the sommelier if you don't like a wine. Sometimes he or she will take the bottle back and sell it off by the glass.
If you're interested in trying something outside your comfort zone, your server might offer you a small taste beforehand.
It's fun to splurge occasionally on a tasting menu and let the sommelier do the pairings course by course.
Even wine pros are learning all the time. The wine landscape has changed so much in recent years, as importers ferret out new and never-before-exported producers from lesser-known regions, that it's hard keeping up.
Story tags » Wine

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