The Telltale Signs of A Great Wine Program

Not every wine program is created equal. Some restaurants devote plenty of time and effort to their wine program, and those efforts are made evident almost the moment a guest walks into the door. However, some restaurants place their focus elsewhere, which means that serious wine lovers (also known as oenophiles) might miss out on quality and variety when dining out. Considering the markup that is on wine and alcohol when dining out, guests definitely don’t want to make the wrong decision when it comes to choosing a restaurant.

Here are some telltale signs that differentiate a great wine program from an inferior one:

  • Wine should be a dominant focus of the restaurant, not an afterthought. Do some research beforehand on the restaurant’s website to see what wines they offer. Browse the menu as well so that you might get an idea of potential pairings and items you might like to order.
  • Visually, there are many clues which can let you know if a restaurant is serious about their wine. For example, if there are wine glasses already on the table when you sit down, then you know that the restaurant expects guests to enjoy their wine. Other clues include separate glasses for white and red wine, and some restaurants even offer different wine glasses for different varietals.
  • Decanters also play an important role in enhancing a wines flavor. Restaurants that offer 6 oz. decanters known as “quartinos” for their ‘by the glass’ offerings allow guests to enjoy their wine a few ounces at a time. This will allow a guest to swirl and smell their wine without spilling it.  If you are planning on ordering an expensive bottle of wine for dinner, call ahead and ask for the wine to be decanted before you arrive. Allowing an hour for the wine to breathe will soften the tannins of the wine and make the fruit flavors more expressive and flavorful.
  • An extensive ‘wine by the glass’ list is another good sign that the restaurant’s wine program is excellent. Many restaurants only offer a few ‘by the glass’ choices, and they tend to be around the same price point. However, if a restaurant offers many different options at many different price points, then this is indicative of the fact that the restaurant understands a guest might want a different glass of wine with each course.
  • Some wine programs even extended their quality assurance efforts to the back of the house. For example, some restaurants wash their glassware in a separate dishwasher from the rest of the dishes in order to gently cleanse these fine dishes.
  • Wine list software such as Uncorkd is another great way to tell if a restaurant is serious about their wine. With this software, guests can browse the wine list and select wines based on their meal, and they can also search by region, varietal, and price point. You can also receive recommendations from the chef or the sommelier, or read tasting notes and descriptions of each wine offering.

Lastly, when dining out, remember that it is perfectly acceptable to voice concerns when it comes to your wine choices. If you think the wine is flawed in any way, you have the right to speak up and voice this concern. Doing so isn’t a breach of etiquette, and nor is it a breach of etiquette to request that your ‘by the glass’ choice comes from a fresh bottle instead of an already opened bottle.  As a guest, you are paying a lot more to drink wine at a restaurant when compared to enjoying wine at home, and for that reason you shouldn’t be afraid to speak your mind and ask questions. Best of all, if you choose restaurants that you already know to have great wine programs by following the above steps, you can avoid any issues and simply have a great night out with wonderful food and wine.


Josh Saunders