How To Correctly Read A Wine List

If you relax and don’t stress out over it, a restaurant wine list can be easy, even fun, to read. Even the most complicated wine list can be easily read when you know how most are organized. The wine list or ‘menu’ is typically broken down into sections, and possibly by classifications of wine.

No matter how the wine list is organized, there should be basic points covered, such as an item number, name of the wine, vintage and sometimes a brief description of how the wine tastes.

Let’s take a look at some of the possible ways in which a wine list can be organized to help familiarize you with typical wine lists.

Standard Categorization

A typical categorization of wines on a wine list is by type; Champagne, sparkling wine, white wines, red wines, and dessert wines. Sometimes the reds and whites are divided between sweet and dry, but this isn’t always the case.

Further subdivisions could be by country or region, especially as applied to red and white wines. You may see, for instance, classifications for Italy, Germany, France, California, New Zealand, Washington State, or Oregon State.

Progressive Lists

While every wine list is categorized in some form, there are modern, wine-conscious restaurants which display their wines with more of a neo-style list. This type of wine list may have wines within a category additionally listed in order of specific characteristics of the wine, generally from lightest to boldest.

Categories of wines by variety or region may be excluded entirely by a restaurant in favor of a list developed solely by taste and characteristics. You will see categories with descriptors suggesting a wine is “Fresh and Crisp” or “Full-bodied and Serious.”

Wine List Basics

If a restaurant prides itself on their wines, they will more likely provide more information about the wine they have in their cellars. These menus will have a bin number, also called an item number, which refers to the location of the bottle of wine in the cellar. This information is more for the waiter than for you, but it does look very fancy, indeed, conjuring up images of a big, dark wine cellar full of classic vintage wines.

Every wine list should include the name of each wine. This is not to be confused with the different varieties of wine. This is the name of the vineyard where the grapes are grown and the wine is bottled. This could be as simple as Coturri, or as elegant as Chateau Montelena. By displaying the name of the wine, you know exactly which winery is represented by each wine.

The vintage tells you which type of grape is used in making the wine. If the wine is a blend of several years, the menu may denote a NV, for non-vintage. Other notations are VV, which means the wine vintages change each year. Descriptions are usually only present if there are fewer wines on the menu, but you may find a couple descriptors after the variety of wine even on longer wine lists.

As you can see, a wine list or menu offers basic information to help you make your decision. Recognizing how a wine list is organized should save you some distress and you should now be feeling a bit more relaxed. Next time you go to a nice restaurant, ask to see the wine list and have fun ordering!