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Resto Confidence

Master the Wine List

Forget your fear of the wine list with tips from sommeliers

You’ve picked the perfect spot. You’ve landed a great table. Your waiter pops by with menus and the wine list, and suddenly a feeling of dread sets in. How do you choose a wine when faced with a novel-length list? We ask four top sommeliers. 


Meet the Sommeliers

Kerri Smith, Play Food & Wine, Ottawa
April Kilpatrick, Windows By Jamie Kennedy, Niagara Falls
Jordan Alessi, Café Boulud, Toronto
Tim Reed Manessy, Terroni Yonge, Toronto


The waiter handed me the wine list. Now what?

Put it down and open your menu, advises sommelier Kerri Smith of Play Food & Wine, in Ottawa. Let the food determine what you’re drinking. Of course, a glass of sparkling wine is the perfect choice for menu perusing.

Not sure how to pair food with wine? “Let the server know you’d like to chat with me,” says April Kilpatrick, sommelier at Windows By Jamie Kennedy, in Niagara Falls. “Servers don’t mind. In fact, this takes the pressure off them.”


Will the sommelier try to upsell me an expensive bottle?

“This is a common misconception,” says Jordan Alessi, sommelier at Café Boulud, in Toronto. A good sommelier should be able to offer stylistic options at various price-points with tact and discretion.

Or, as Tim Reed Manessy, sommelier and manager at Terroni Yonge, in Toronto, puts it, “Great service is the complete absence of discomfort.”


How do I explain the sort of wine style I like?

Give your sommelier as much information as you can, and don't worry about making sense or using “wine-speak,” says Manessy. “A good sommelier will sort it out for you.”

Likewise, the sommelier isn’t there to condemn or judge you. We aren’t scary people!” says Alessi. “We make the best, most educated decision based on the information you give us.”  


Do I order a bottle, or a glass?

If you’re about to dig into a multi-course meal, and you’d like to pair each dish with a different wine, then by-the-glass makes sense, says Smith. That said, some restaurants only offer a small selection of wines by the glass.

“By-the-bottle will always give you a broader selection, so if you have your mind set on something specific, you’ve got a much greater chance of finding it on the big list,” says Manessy. And besides, adds Kilpatrick, “Sharing a bottle of wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures.”


I’ve been asked to taste the wine. Now what?

Make sure you’re about to taste the wine you ordered, and not something else, by reading the label. Then, before sipping, nose the wine, not the cork. “If the wine smells unpleasant in any way, send it back,” says Kilpatrick.

Send it back? Yes. It happens, and you won’t be judged or looked at strangely, says Manessy. “If the wine is a total miss, just say you don't like it or it's not what you were expecting. No restaurant wants you to drink a bottle of wine you're not enjoying.”