How to choose the right wine

Use these tips when dining out
KAREN MACNEIL-FIFE

Restaurant wine lists can make even the most confident host uneasy. The pressure of having to choose a single wine that everyone at the table will love ― and that will go with everyone's food ― is frightening. It doesn't help that many wine lists are huge. You have one chance, out of, say, 500 or more choices, to pick the "right" wine. Through the years, I've come up with a few ways to increase my own comfort level.

Order two relatively inexpensive wines, especially if there are four or more people in your party. Have the wines served at the same time and encourage everyone to try both with the different dishes they've ordered. This takes the pressure off being "right."

Ask what wine on the list the chef loves to drink. Generally, his or her taste pairs instinctively with many dishes on the menu. (In my opinion, this strategy produces better results than asking what the server likes.)

Abdicate entirely. One of the best ways to learn about new wines is to leave the decision entirely to a knowledgeable sommelier or server. Tell him or her what kind of wine you'd like, in what price range: "Please bring me a really crisp, light white for about $30," for example.

Give yourself an adventure budget to practice with. The best way to expand the range of wines you know is to try new ones. Once a month, maybe, when you're out with family or close friends, build your "wine-list muscle" by ordering something you're unfamiliar with. You'll look impressively knowledgeable when you order the same bottle at the next meal you have to host.

Eventually, you'll get to the point where a restaurant's wine list is as easy to deal with as its menu.

Sunset's Wine Club