Gallery: Ask a Sommelier: How Do You Find the Best Value on a Wine List?

Have an Open Mind, Come Bearing Adjectives
Have an Open Mind, Come Bearing Adjectives
"I think the best values are found in the obscure regions and countries with less notoriety. Having an open mind will help you find some fun wines outside your typical Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. I don’t really buy into the second-cheapest bottle theory, as every restaurant’s mark-up strategy is different. Your best bet is to ask the sommelier or waiter what they’re excited about and use that information to help you make your own decision. Deciding how much money you’re comfortable spending on wine before your meal and relaying that to the sommelier can help narrow down your selections without the awkward wine budget two-step. Using some adjectives to describe the style of wine you’re looking for can help the sommelier find you something that might be similar to what you typically drink but from a country, region or grape that will provide more value."—Chad Zeigler, RN74 (San Francisco)
Watch the Markup
Watch the Markup
"Generally, the highest priced bottles are marked up the least and the least expensive bottles are marked up the most...but it really depends on where you are dining. Often the best values are right in the medium price range on a restaurant list—that's where you get the best quality with the least amount of markup."—Savanna Ray, Wildwood (Portland, OR)

[Photo: Jannie Huang]

If It's Available By the Glass, Don't Order it By the Bottle
If It's Available By the Glass, Don't Order it By the Bottle
"On a good wine list, I look for wines from the outskirts of major appellations which may be lesser known, but are producing outstanding wines. As far as ordering the cheapest bottle, some in the industry say to avoid this—I’m personally split. What I would advise against is ordering a bottle of a wine that is offered by the glass—that may be the biggest mark-up."—Kerrie O'Brien, DBGB (NYC)
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Advice
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Advice
"The best values on a list exist with the sommelier. Ask for guidance and don’t be afraid…sommeliers only bite when they are within sight of a Crif dog."—Paul Grieco, Hearth and Terroir (NYC)
When In Rome...
When In Rome...
"I think that one smart approach is drinking wines which match the theme of the restaurant. Usually these prices will be a little better, in efforts to encourage diners to branch out and enjoy a wine that originates from the same place as the food."—Gillian Ballance MS, Cavallo Point (Sausalito, CA)

[Photo: Court of Master Sommeliers]

Look to Lesser-Known Regions
Look to Lesser-Known Regions
"The best values on a good wine list come from lesser known regions. At Quince, I like to provide the best wines available within a specific region. For example, the best wines from Bordeaux tend to be rather expensive, but top producers from the Jura are rather affordable."—Chris Bagetta, Quince (San Francisco)
We're Not Rich Either!
We're Not Rich Either!
"Ask for a suggestion! Sommeliers can relate to not wanting to drink expensive wine all the time and are likely to have their own favorites in the values."—Liz Nicholson, Maialino (NYC)

[Photo: Nicole Franzen]

Go For The Cheapest Bottle!
Go For The Cheapest Bottle!
"If you're in a restaurant that has a sommelier and a good wine program, chances are relatively good the cheapest bottle is one he or she has hand selected and actually offers a real cost to value ratio."—Michael Garofola, Genoa (Portland, OR)
Think About Value, Not Just Price
Think About Value, Not Just Price
"In my opinion, 'value' equals dollars spent plus quality received. Using this equation, the least expensive wine on the list seldom offers the best value. On a wine list these are generally found in underutilized grape varieties or undiscovered areas of the world. Examples would be grape varieties like Riesling and Grenache or Spain and the wine regions of Germany."—Jason Smith MS, Bellagio Resort (Las Vegas)

[Photo: MGM Resorts International]

The Weird Stuff
The Weird Stuff
"I can't speak for all wine lists, but I tend to reward those folks who buy the weird stuff. If you buy the by-the-glass Sauvignon then you are sponsoring the curious to try Jasnieres."—Steven Grubbs, Empire State South (Atlanta) and Five and Ten (Athens, GA)
Try a Glass First
Try a Glass First
"I have never hewed to—or really understood—that old saw of not ordering the cheapest bottle, but then again, our list at Gramercy is where my head goes when I hear that (and I’d be happy to drink the $35 dry Hungarian white or $40 light Jura red any day). Where to go on the list depends on the restaurant. Try some wines by the glass—you might love one of those and just order a bottle of it—those wines should be ones that the restaurant is proud to serve by the bottle too."—Juliette Pope, Gramercy Tavern (NYC)

[Photo: Ellen Silverman]

Don't Order What the Somm Hates
Don't Order What the Somm Hates
"I don't think there is always a formula to find the best value on the list. If you have a few minutes to find out what the sommelier likes and dislikes this is probably the best way—his favorite category is probably the best value while other types of wine that he is forced to carry are probably running on a much higher margin. With past lists that I have worked with, I did like to make the cheapest wine something pretty cool. It's funny to see how guests react with pricing. Many times, they think it has to be bad if it's the cheapest."—Eric Railsback, Caveau Santa Barbara
France, Italy, Spain
France, Italy, Spain
"The best values are normally scattered throughout the menu. That being said—when I am dining at a restaurant with super high prices, I head to Italy, France or Spain. The options are so numerous in all three of those countries in many of the major regions."—Virginia Philip MS, The Breakers (Palm Beach, Florida)

[Photo: Lila Photo]

Cheapest Isn't Always the Best Value
Cheapest Isn't Always the Best Value
"When you start shopping by price, you may get the cheapest wine, but it may not be the best value. Point to a price range you are comfortable with and tell the sommelier a type of wine you like or part of the world you want to explore. This way, you find a wine in a price range you’re comfortable with that is also tailored towards your palate."—Sabato Sagaria MS, The Little Nell Hotel (Apen, Colorado)

[Photo: Court of Master Sommeliers]

Ask for Help
Ask for Help
"The best values on the list will generally be found by making friends with someone that has an understanding of the wines on the list better than you do. I don't usually order wine based on price—it's usually associated with my mood, or what I'm eating. I'd give my sommelier (or enlightened server) details about what I'm looking for (style of wine, price range, etc.), and let them make some recommendations."—Chris Gaither, Spruce (San Francisco)
Find Out What the Somm is Excited About
Find Out What the Somm is Excited About
"It's not an exact science. I would recommend asking the sommelier what they are excited about on the wine list, and which bottle they feel is the best value for money. I am never disappointed by the selections they give me when I engage the ladies and gentleman that run the wine program."—Laura Maniec MS, Corkbuzz (NYC)