5 Tips for Choosing Wine in a Restaurant

dsc_0009Jean-Marie Pratt – pictured here in informal attire – has been the Head Sommelier at Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous three Michelin star restaurant in Chelsea for three years, and is off on 1 February on a sabbatical, working in wineries around the world. Before he flies off, he has these words of advice to customers when choosing wine in a ‘fine dining’ restaurant.

1. Most restaurants have their wine lists online. It is worth having a look in advance if you are the host and won’t have time to read the list while chatting with your guests. Check with the restaurant if this is up to date on the website when making your reservation.

2. If you are four people or more, don’t order four glasses of Champagne by the glass as an aperitif, better to order a bottle. A bottle is equivalent to six glasses and restaurants make more profit on wines served by the glass and especially Champagne. You will also have a wider choice. This also works for wine during the meal, and six people is ideal if you want a different glass of wine for everyone to go with each course (it’s trickier with eight people, unless it’s a sweet wine).

p11204283. Always try to decide at the beginning of the meal how many different wines you will need. This will allow the sommelier to prepare all the wines and to decant if necessary and to check the temperature. If you order your red wine when the main course is in front of you, it is likely that the red will be too cold, if straight from the cellar, and taste too ‘tight’ as it won’t have had time to breathe and open up.

4. Choose your wine according to the time of day – not just on what you are eating or what you normally might pick off a shelf for drinking at home. Go for a lighter wine at lunch – if you have only had breakfast and a cappuccino so far in the day, don’t be hard on your palate by ordering a super fat oaky white or a rich alcoholic red.

5. Don’t hesitate to give your budget to the sommelier. A professional sommelier should not make you spend more than you want – but if they do, then this must be justified by the quality of the wine.

If you have comments or suggestions, we’d like to hear them. I’ll be seeing Jean Marie on Wednesday, 27th January at 9am, so feel free to ask him a question and I’ll put it to him.

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6 thoughts on “5 Tips for Choosing Wine in a Restaurant

  1. Keith Hearnden

    A chance to air a pet hate, followed up by a related question.

    As an experienced wine consumer and enthusiast, I strongly object to the practice in some restaurants of removing the bottle from your table to some distant part of the room, where it is "controlled" by the sommelier (if there is one), the head waiter (if he can be bothered), or any other passing functionary (as the mood takes them). I like to pour out the wine. I can do it when it is needed, not when a restaurant employee happens to notice that we've been dry for the last ten minutes or more. Furthermore, meals provide the perfect situation for conversation to flourish – a rapport and congeniality which is inevitably fractured whenever a waiter approaches the table and asks who would like some more wine.

    So, my request to ALL restaurants is, please don't do this, unless the customer has specifically asked for it. And the associated question is, why do some restaurants want to do this in the first case?

  2. Neville Austin

    2 million percent agree with Keith Hearnden above about waiters and control of the bottle in restaurants. Nastiest most arrogant experience I ever had of this was at the Waterside at Bray – no tip for anyone.

  3. Gavin

    Keith and Neville

    I've asked Jean-Marie for his views on your remarks.

    By the way, in case you were wondering, Ronan's comment "He’s quite good, where did you find him?" is a private joke. It was he that brought Jean-Marie to restaurant Gordon Ramsay as sommelier, before he himself departed on a world tour.

  4. Jean-Marie Pratt

    Sorry to Neville Austin to hear about your bad experience at the Waterside Inn.

    As regards to what Keith Hearnden is saying, if you want to pour your wine by yourself, that's not a problem, just ask for it when you are having dinner in a restaurant. And if the Sommelier is in control of your bottle, it is because it's his job to serve your wine and top-up the glasses when needed. The bottle should always stay somewhere close to your table where you can see it. A professional Sommelier or waiter should do a precise and discreet service without the guest being 'dry for the last ten minutes or more' and without being intrusive and interrupting conversation. I am sorry if you are not experiencing a such service in the places you go out. I can assure you that you would not have such an experience as you describe it at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea.

  5. Keith Hearnden

    I know it's a long time between comments. However, I fear Jean-Marie lives in an ideal world that he and few others inhabit. My comments were actually inspired by a pretentious restaurant within commuting distance of Oxford: but I have also had similar experiences in Michelin starred restaurants in France.

    As for the Oxfordshire restaurant, our table asked two junior staff for the bottle to be left, but were told "It is (hotel) policy to remove it". We insisted that we should talk to the Head Waiter, who eventually arrived 10 minutes later. We repeated our request, the hotel policy was re-stated, so we had to resort to a forceful assertiveness to change his mind – which was eventually achieved, accompanied by an even more forceful 'placing' of the wine on our table.

    Not only did we later insist that the hotel's automatic addition of a 15% service charge for the meal was removed, but also that which had been applied for our accommodation – accompanied by a full explanation of the reason.