5 Tips to Make the Most of a Wine List

Food & Drink, Wine


Written by Bill Thornton

Published on March 25, 2015

Wall of wine at Tappo

At Step Out Buffalo we want you to get the most out of your dining experience. With that in mind we asked local wine expert Bill Thorton of McKinley Wine and Spirits to give us a few tips on ordering wine when dining out. Plus, find information about McKinley Wine and Spirits’ events here.

When ordering wine in a restaurant, it’s always a good to note a few things.

Is the Wine List Featured?

Is the wine on a separate Wine List or is it a simple list at the end of the food menu? A restaurant that has a separate wine list shows the consumer that they have taken the time to key in on certain wines and categories. By listing the wines on a separate list it is easier to change the wines based on availability, vintage and quality. Establishments that list wines and beer at the end of the food menu usually sell popular brands or labels from larger corporations that render a vintage and or price changes inconsequential and thus can stay the same on a wine list for a long time.


Knowledge of the Server

Another important factor in ordering wine at a restaurant is the knowledge of the server. There was one restaurant locally that had a sommelier (or wine expert) on staff but most rely on a collaboration of their sales person’s knowledge as well as their own. Does the server know the wine list well? Are they comfortable recommending wine and suggesting a pairing with the food menu? Some area restaurants have wine and food pairings or training that are run by the wholesalers or wine sales people. At these seminars they taste and pick wines for the menu that match well with the food and try to explain why they do as well.



Another important factor is how the wine is presented to you by the server. The server should always show you the label of the bottle so you can see that it and read that the vintage is correct. The server should then competently open it in front of you. That means the foil cover should be cut well below the lip to avoid any contact with the wine when pouring. Some will still hand you the cork, but that really only comes into play with higher end wines with some age to show both that it was aged on its side and the integrity of the cork. A little pour and a quick twist is next to sample the wine. It should taste as you expect. If your feel in any way it is corked or spoiled now is the time to mention it. The restaurant can usually get credit from the distributors so don’t be shy, it’s your money after all.


Properly Stored

Also worth mentioning, did the wine come from a decent storage area without any temperature fluctuations? If wine that feels to warm as a red (or too cold) as well as a white that is to warm opens the door to spoilage. Most restaurants try to store the wine in a cool, dark area without temperature fluctuations. Some restaurants in Buffalo have wine cellar type storage that control both temperature and humidity.


Wine by the Glass

The last important point I want to touch on is wine by the glass. An establishment that turns over wine fast with a busy bar area and good crowds usually carries fresher wine. A place that does not sell much wine may have a bottle that has been opened too long. The nose or smell will be off and it will have a flat uninspiring taste in your glass. Do not be afraid to ask when and how long the bottle has been opened if you have any questions. Another thing to look for is 1.5 liter sizes as “by the glass” items. The wines tend not to be depleted as fast and can be spoiled or not very fresh. A wine once it is opened has a day or two max before it drastically changes in flavor and freshness.

By showing a little diligence in picking your wine and establishments, you (the consumer) will be rewarded  by drinking and enjoying fresh, well made wine in your glass.

Bill Thornton
Wine Manager

McKinley Wine and Spirits

3820 McKinley Pkwy, Blasdell, NY


>> Find events at McKinley Wine and Spirits


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Written by <a href="" target="_self">Bill Thornton</a>

Written by Bill Thornton

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