House Wine Revisited

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Earlier this year, I wrote a post titled “Don’t order the House Wine!” It can oftentimes be the most marked-up wine on the menu! I also gave some tips on what you should order to get the best value.

Recently, I received an email in my inbox from Serious Eats to this article on how to find the best wine value on the wine list, as told by sommeliers. Some disagree with my advice. But I also love that I learned a few new ways to pick value wines! There are a few categories they agree on and a few contradicting pieces of advice, too. So, truly, there is no hard and fast rule. Here are my thoughts on their advice:

Try Lesser Known Regions/Varietals.

I absolutely agree! Once upon a time, Washington Merlots and Chilean Cabs were uber-cheap because they were up-and-coming. Why not try something obscure and new to you? I like that one sommelier stated “If you buy the by-the-glass Sauvignon Blanc, then you are sponsoring the curious to try Jasnieres.” Ha ha. Sponsor me! Sponsor me! Maybe I should be telling you all to drink the house wine. That way, I can try some interesting wines at a good price! It is true that I often try wines that I’ve never heard of before when I’m dining out. I prefer interesting wine menus, not the same-old-same-old wines you tend to see on every menu.

Ask the Sommelier.

When you are at a higher end restaurant that employes a sommelier, If you ask what they are excited about on the menu, it’s probably not only a wine they drink themselves, but also a wine that they can afford. That means quality and value! Or, just ask for advice. I second one sommelier’s suggestion to point to a wine in your price range when you are picking out the wine. Then describe the style you’d like. For example, “I was looking at this wine {point}, but I’m in search of a bold red with earthy notes this evening.” This is something sommeliers are good at, so utitlize that service. About ten years ago, a friend and I tried our first Gigondas at a fine French restaurant that was recommended to us in this way… and we fell in love with the wine!

Try Wines at the Medium Price Point.

The theory here is that even though the highest priced bottles usually have the least markup, the medium priced ones often have the best value – quality to price ratio. While this may be true, this is only helpful to you if you are dining somewhere where the  middle-priced bottles are ones you can afford!

Then there’s are the contradicting advice…

“If it’s available by the glass, don’t order it by the bottle,” comments one sommelier.

I had never thought of this one before. Normally, if I’m thinking about getting a glass of wine and someone else is thinking about getting a glass as well, we decide to get a bottle because we can each get a second glass and it’ll be cheaper and fresher overall.  However, this sommelier suggests that the wines offered by the glass are often the most marked up! Interesting.

Another sommelier suggests trying wines by the glass first. And if you like it, order a bottle.

I personally don’t agree with this one. Despite the fact that in many states, you can take an opened bottle of wine home if you don’t finish it, you don’t know how long that wine has been open. If you think you like it and it’s been out for a while, the bottle may need some time to breathe for you to enjoy it!  Besides, if they do sell a wine you are considering by the glass it by the glass, they should be happy to offer you a sample first.

After reading this article, I’d say that ordering lesser known types of wine and wines in the middle price range are probably the way to go for the best value no matter where you dine. However, if you are in a nice restaurant that has a sommelier, utilize him or her to the fullest! That way, if the middle-priced wines at high end restaurants are not in your budget, you can find one of good quality that is.

Still, I’m staying away from the house and cheapest wines on the menu. I still think they have not only the highest mark-up, but also the lowest quality. That is, unless, it’s recommended by the sommelier as a featured wine that they’d drink any given night…

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And now for my food journal – Tuesday’s eats!

Breakfast

Before work – Magic Smoothie (not pictured). I’ve made this many times before; however, my concoction this time around included:

  • 1/2 cup 1% milk
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1 tsp Chinese Five Spice (I couldn’t find my cinnamon and this worked great!)

At work – 2 cups of black coffee with a piece of Dove Dark Chocolate

I eat one piece of Dove Dark Chocolate just about every day, often with my coffee. This one had almonds.

I eat one piece of Dove Dark Chocolate just about every day, often with my coffee. This one had almonds.

Lunch

I enjoyed a salad made of the same ingredients as the lunch from the day before and a banana (not pictured – you know what a banana looks like).

Salad with

Snack

Kind Bar -

Kind Bar – Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew – my “Kind” of ingredients!

Dinner

I had my friend Jen over for dinner so I got to make chicken! If you want to know why I’m excited about that, click here.

Avocado, Mozzarella and Bruschetta Chicken

Avocado, Mozzarella and Bruschetta Chicken with Balsamic Glaze

Ever since I found *this recipe* posted by Kristin at Iowa Girl Eats, it reminded me of my favorite meal I had in Ireland this past fall, and I knew I had to make it. Okay, so mine didn’t turn out as pretty as Kristin’s did. {But look at all of her photographs – they are beautiful!} Still, it tasted great. There are few changes I’d make to my methods for next time. For example, my reduced balsamic didn’t come out as nice and thick as hers did and I drizzled only a little on since I was skeptical that the balsamic flavor would be too strong. After eating dinner and the remaining balsamic had cooled, it was thick, syrupy, sweet and addicting. I wanted to drizzle it on everything!

I'd

I’d give myself more time to reduce the balsamic next time.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know how much I adore am obsessed with tomatoes. This recipe called for four chicken breasts, but when I opened the package, there were three big ones instead. So I was trying to proportion the topping ingredients appropriately:

Tues-Bruschetta Chx

That is how much of the bruschetta topping I used and I felt that it could have used MORE! I am not sure if that’s because I just didn’t put enough on or if that’s just my obsession with tomatoes and wanting a little more flavor!

Also, my friend Jen and I realized that we couldn’t really taste the avocado. It could have been just my avocado {it’s kind of hit or miss which ones have the most flavor}, the fact that I may not have put enough slices on {but I used the whole avocado}, or maybe the overabundance of cheese {is that possible?} I topped it with overpowered the tomatoes and avocado. In any case, if you don’t happen to have avocado on hand, you can just leave it out.

And lastly, once the balsamic glaze has thickened, I would use more of it!

Kristin recommends serving this over pasta or spinach. I used mixed greens and to me, cutting into it was a little difficult and the textures together were a bit strange, but Jen didn’t mind it. I might have the mixed greens as a side salad instead. {With the balsamic glaze drizzled on top of course!}

Dessert

I didn’t have time to make dessert, which we tend to do when we get together, so we ended our meal with a piece of Dove Dark Chocolate (not pictured). This time, I had the Sea Salt Caramel flavor.

Snack

While cleaning up, I kept dipping into that leftover balsamic reduction. It finally occurred to me that I could use the some of the leftover mozzarella and some grape tomatoes to make a version of Caprese:

Balsamic Glaze Caprese

Balsamic Glaze Caprese

Later Snack

Upon Rob’s request, I made a later snack of the rest of the Ciabatta Garlic bread from the previous day and had one piece myself (not pictured).

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How do you choose wine at a restaurant?

Any tips or tricks to find something that’s your style?

Cheers~

Carrie

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