Do You Have Wine List Anxiety?: Expert tips to help navigate restaurant wine lists

Do You Have Wine List Anxiety?

When dining in a restaurant, it’s hard to find anything that invokes more panic than the wine list. It is passed around like a live grenade with the faint hope that someone who knows something will take the risky mission of choosing the wine. Never fear, here are some tips to help you navigate the world of restaurant wine selection with a bit more confidence.

  1. Set Your Price Point: Think about how much you want to spend before you even open the list.  You can likely find a number of wines that will fit your budget.
  2. It Helps if You Know Some Wine Basics: Wine terminology can be daunting to the uninitiated. Knowing basic grape types and wine regions will help.  Also, understanding terms like dry, tannic, and fruity can help you communicate with your fellow diners and the restaurant staff.
  3. Food Pairings are Important: If you are savvy enough, find a wine that suits the meal choices for the table. If you have a large group, you may consider 2 different bottles to cover the possibilities.
  4. Seek Staff Recommendations: Don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant employees for advice, keeping in mind Point #1 above. Describe the type of wine you enjoy and they can suggest options that align with your taste.
  5. Order Wine You Like: Ultimately, look for, and choose, a wine that you enjoy drinking. It does no good to order one that you hate just because you’ve been told it’s the perfect pairing.
  6. Don’t Forget the House Wine:  Gone are the days when the House Wine was the cheapest thing the restaurant could find with no consideration of wine quality.  Most establishments now choose House Wines that are good values and suit the cuisine they prepare.  Usually, they will bring you a complimentary taste before committing to buying it.

By following these tips, we hope you can approach wine selection with less stress. And remember, dining out is more than making the perfect wine choice; it’s supposed to be an enjoyable experience.

 This Month’s Wine Ratings

The Whites


Henry of Pelham The Shadow Rock Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ★★★½+ $21.95 (Vintages)

A much more fruit driven Sauvignon than is typical of Niagara’s cool climate viticulture.  Lemon, gooseberry, and a little vanilla creaminess, from partial barrel fermentation and oak aging, are in the forefront here with little to no grassiness.  It would be quite nice for the patio as an aperitif or excellent with seafood.


Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina 2022 ★★★★ $17.95 (Vintages)

Pale lemon in the glass, this is an excellent example of Falanghina.  It’s quite full bodied with notes of salty preserved lemon peel, lemonade, mango, golden apple, and wet stones.  Wonderfully fresh acidity makes it a great match for grilled shrimp or a nice complement for roast pork loin and apple sauce.




Cuvée Jean Philippe Blanquette de Limoux 2020 ★★★★  $18.95 (Vintages)

Limoux, in Southern France, is quite likely where the first Sparkling wine was fashioned, contrary to the legendary story of Dom Pérignon (from the Champagne region).  This is creamy, orchard fruited Traditional Method sparkler, with a nice mousse, is made from Mauzac and Chardonnay vines that are over 20 years old. It’s very nice by itself, with deep fried calamari, or bloomy rind cheeses.




LYV Rosé 2023 ★★★★ $19.95 (Vintages)

Many French Rosés need food to shine, but this wild strawberry, red cherry, mineral, and garrigue scented example is fine on its own.  Beautifully pale, it’s made with Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah with very little skin contact.  If you want to serve it with food, it needs garlicky hummus, black olive tapenade, or grilled seafood.


The Reds


Trius Distinction Pinot Noir 2022½  $19.95 (The Wine Shop)
A very good, varietally correct Pinot from Niagara at a good value price point.  It’s dry with a little bit of nuanced oak spice, red cherry, and forest floor, and medium tannins making it easy to drink.  Cedar planked salmon dressed with herbs would be a good pairing.


La Poderina Rosso di Toscana 2021 ★★★★  $21.95 (Vintages)
Since this hails from the Montalcino region of Italy, it seemed odd that it was not given the Rosso di Montalcino designation, but investigation showed it has a bit of Petit Verdot blended into the Sangiovese.  This means it has to bear the more generic designation, Rosso di Toscana.  The wine quality, however, does not suffer and exhibits full bodied concentrated dark fruit, rosemary, pine, and earthy forest floor in the company of robust tannins that are smoothing out.  Veggie pizza, bolognese pasta, or pollo alla romana would be the ideal accompaniments.


Peter Lehmann The Barossan Shiraz 2021 ★★★★ $21.95 (Vintages)

The well known, excellent Australian Shiraz from the Barosssa Valley would be well suited to stock up on for the approaching BBQ season.  This red is full bodied, darkly fruity and chocolaty with nicely balanced spicy vanilla oak. Pour with your BBQ burgers, ribs, and medium NY striploin or ribeye steaks.


Querciabella Mongrana Maremma Toscana 2021 ★★★★ $24.95 (Vintages)

The Maremma region is closer to the seacoast in Tuscany.  Thus, it tends to produce riper and fruitier wines due to the warmer climate.  The region is also freed from some of the grape regulations that bind the rest of Tuscany; hence, this is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.  The wine is pleasantly herbal (think tomato and sage leaf, rosemary), with blackberry and red cherry jam wrapped up in medium tannins.  It would make your pulled pork, smoked ribs, or Bistecca alla fiorentina an occasion.


San Alejandro Evodia 2021 ★★★★ $16.95 (Vintages)

We poured this at our online wine club and it was the hit of the evening.  You can see why with the price to quality ratio of this superb, good value Garnacha (Grenache) from Spain.  Definitely dry and full bodied, it was aged in used oak and concrete vessels to produce a smooth red with strawberry jam fruit along with a smidgen of herb and vanilla.  The medium tannins mean you could even enjoy this before dinner, but it would also complement strawberry basil chicken salad or grilled chicken with a drizzle of BBQ sauce.