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What a lot of  rubbish is written, and talked, about wine in restaurants: all those theories and stratagems to outwit the crafty restaurateur, such as choosing the second cheapest, only ordering the house wine, and so on.


The first thing to bear in mind is that ordering wine in a restaurant is pretty much a lottery, just as it in a supermarket – unless you have actually tasted the specific wine that is in the list, you're just guessing. I can remember going out to supper a while ago with a friend of mine who is extremely competitive, and in his opinion knows a lot about everything, including wine. He invited me to order the wine; the bottle I ordered wasn't that wonderful; he decided to order a second bottle (he chose a different wine), which turned out to be nicer than the bottle I had ordered. He was so pleased with himself. He thought he'd "beaten" me. The fact is that neither of us had tasted either of the wines we ordered, so we were both guessing. Although he would be loth to admit it, he knows a great deal less about wine than I do, and so my guess was significantly more educated than his; he was just lucky.


Certain members of the press advise readers always to choose the house wine. What a waste if the restaurant has an interesting, carefully chosen, reasonably priced list! And my experience of house wines is sometimes they're excellent, while sometimes they're dire. Others advise ordering the second cheapest wine – I think on the grounds that the restaurateur (never to be trusted, only in it for the money) will rip people off on the house wines where the biggest volume of sales is, so you're going to get better value going one rung up the price ladder. Who says? Frankly, it's utterly lop-sided thinking – even if it's true for some restaurants it's not true for lots of others.


So here's my advice:

1. Take advice! Ask the staff in the restaurant about the wines – tell them what sort of wines you like, and ask them what they recommend. If you feel you can trust the person giving advice, allow them to range around the list and perhaps suggest something you might not have considered. Live dangerously!

2. Failing my first piece of advice (just as in lots of shops you can't get intelligent advice , so the same applies in restaurants) this is my tip: PLAY SAFE! They're obviously not interested in wine – in fact, drink beer or cider, or just tap water; if you're in a mood for wine, then order the house wine, or alternatively, if there's a particular kind of wine that you have had good experiences with, say, Rioja, then order that sort of wine – avoid styles of wine that you have not enjoyed in the past.