Secrets of a City Sommelier

Occasionally I sit down to learn a little about wine from someone who knows more than I do–the famous Dr. Vino, who deigns to come away from his awesome blog to hang out with some normal lushes eager students of the vine at NYU. This week, however, we had a special guest–a real, live, thoroughly cute in a your-so-dorky-way sommelier, who let me in on some secrets to getting a great deal on a restaurant wine list.

And, naturally (since I don’t work for his restaurant or  his famous restauranteur buddy  Daniel Boulud) I’m here to share them with you so we can all drink the good stuff and pay less for it. Plus, he recommends ordering magnums and we all know people with magnums on the table are the envy of the club coolest diners around.

Drink up.

1.Go Big, you’re not at home.

Everyone loves a Magnum, and according to Mr. Sommelier (Ahem, actually Levi Dalton) they can often be a great value, because a lot of people don’t buy them and a group of four could easily drink more than one 750mL bottle and thus end up spending more than if they’d just gone for the big guns right away.

2. Scan the “Sweet” Section.

Often times, wines that are confusing get tossed to the back of the wine list, under the “sweet” or “dessert” wine label–sometimes there can be some bargain-priced and food friendly gems hidden among in the wine list’s final pages.

3. Reverse Type–the anti-hype.

How many people order Bordeaux at a French Restaurant? Montepulciano at an Italian enclave? Ummmm, Everyone.  Following the crowd rarely saves your wallet, so ordering a reverse-type wine (such as a California Cab at an Italian restaurant) can save money, since these wines will be priced lower–relatively speaking–than their popular counterparts.

4. Forget about the Seasons–Global warming is getting rid of them anyway.

Traditions like drinking rosé in spring are classic–like only wearing white until Labor Day. So, if you’ve watched What Not to Wear in the last five years, you know this can be limiting and is falling out of vogue.  It’s the same with wines, and their prices on restaurant menus.  You’ll likely get a way better deal on a nice rosé if you order it in the fall, when restaurants will be trying to sell what didn’t go during the warm spring and summer.  Likewise, crisp white wines can be a delicious deal in winter, when most diners huddle around big reds.

5. Be Bold, Be Daring, Ask about a wine you can’t pronounce.

You’re already being brave by opening the 20-page wine list. Don’t be timid like everybody else and order something that’s easy to say. You could be missing out on something yummy (and fun to say) like Rias Baixas or Gerwurtrazminer. Plus, restaurants often lower the prices on winners like these because so many people don’t order them just because they’re afraid to pronounce their names wrong.

Ordering Uncorked:

Laura Loves: The word Sommelier–it just plain sounds cool.   Making friends with bartenders. Ordering Magnums. Letting someone else drive home after a long dinner with aforementioned magnums. (Love NYC even more for great public transit, so everyone can enjoy)

Fun Facts: According to the average american sommelier makes between 38 and 72k (quite the range.) In NYC it can climb over $100,000.

LA is the new place to become a sommelier–the costs and culture here.

Do This: Chat up the staff and make them your best friends.  They are at work and you being fun=them hooking you up. (tipping well also helps….)

Always order a bottle–wines by the glass are a notorious rip-off, and often old or spoiled.

Not That: Don’t act scared or avoid the staff, the quickest way to spit in your food  bad service is being rude to the staff–they are there to help you and (usually) want to!


  • April 10, 2012
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