The Foodism guide to... choosing wine
Want to get the most out of the wine list next time you eat out? Turns out there's a certain knack to it – and Michael Sager of Sager + Wilde lets us in on the secret
Menus? No problem. Wine lists? Not so much. They are – and even wine expert and owner of Bethnal Green's Sager + Wilde Michael Sager admits it – "a minefield". So how do you get the most value out of them, both financially and in terms of your own enjoyment? The East London-based restaurateur gives us the lowdown.
1. Trust the house wine
Don't let anyone tell you not to have the house wine. A good restaurant will always have a decent house wine and there is no reason to be embarrassed about simply wanting to have a good time in a restaurant and drink without spending lots of money. So the value here comes out of you actually experiencing the meal inexpensively and still enjoying yourself.
2. Step outside your comfort zone
Quite often wines in traditional restaurants with traditional profit margins (unlike ourselves at Sager + Wilde) offer less value in the wines that you might already be familiar with, like New Zealand sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio.
These restaurants are responding to a demand and have realised that they can stretch their profits by offering wines that practically sell themselves. It's simple supply/demand adjustment.
If you order wine you're not familiar with and step outside your comfort zone, you can pick up some really great bargains. Wines that restaurants are struggling to sell because no one is familiar with them are often cheaper. No one wants those wines so restaurants won't add high margins on those wines. Simple supply/demand again.
Similarly, statistically most people will not want to embarrass themselves and much rather ask for something that seems familiar and they can pronounce. this creates more demand which is met with a price increase on the supply side.
Don't let anyone tell you not to have the house wine. A good restaurant will always have a decent one
3. Use the sommelier
Ask the sommelier. Tell them how much you want to spend and ask them to pick you their favourite wine. This is what I do quite often when I go out, as it provides the sommelier a welcome challenge, and encourages them impress you with their knowledge.
4. Don't go for the second least expensive wine
It's a simple fact that guests don't want to look cheap, so guests statistically go for the second wine on the list, and a lot of restaurants take advantage of that by putting the highest margin wine in that position – it's supply/demand again.
5. You get what you pay for
The reason a 60 quid bottle costs that much is because a lot more work went into its production than into a less expensive wine. That doesn't always show in the wine though. For example, many winemakers across the world apply a lot of new oak to their wines because it's currently so popular – it's a technique that costs a lot of money but isn't always the best way of bringing out the subtle flavours in each grape variety. Essentially you're paying for the production methods rather than the resulting quality of the wine.
If you want to experience a wine with true personality and one you will remember, you can get the best value by simply telling the sommelier what you want. Don't choose yourself, wine is a minefield. The sommelier is your friend.
Sager + Wilde, 250 Paradise Row, E2 9LE; sagerandwilde.com