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

  • Have an Open Mind, Come Bearing Adjectives

    Sommelier holding glass of white wine

    "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

    Sommelier drinking glass of red wine
    Jannie Huang

    "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)

    If It's Available By the Glass, Don't Order it By the Bottle

    Sommelier in front of shelves of wine bottles

    "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

    Sommelier in blue sweater, holding glass of white wine

    "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...

    Sommelier holding glass of wine
    Court of Master Sommeliers

    Look to Lesser-Known Regions

    Sommelier in wine store

    "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!

    Sommelier with glass of red wine
    Nicole Franzen

    "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)

    Go For The Cheapest Bottle!

    Sommelier

    "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

    Sommelier surrounded by bottles of wine
    MGM Resorts International

    The Weird Stuff

    Sommelier holding bottle of wine

    "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

    Sommelier holding a glass of red wine
    Ellen Silverman

    "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)

    Don't Order What the Somm Hates

    Two men drinking

    "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

    Sommelier with a glass of red wine, surrounded by bottles of wine
    Lila Photo

    "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)

    Cheapest Isn't Always the Best Value

    Sommelier
    Court of Master Sommeliers

    "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)

    Ask for Help

    Sommelier holding bottle of wine

    "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

    Sommelier headshot

    "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)