Use these tips when dining out

KAREN MACNEIL-FIFE

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

Order two relatively inexpensive wines, especially if thereare four or more people in your party. Have the wines served at thesame time and encourage everyone to try both with the differentdishes 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 onthe menu. (In my opinion, this strategy produces better resultsthan asking what the server likes.)

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

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

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

Sunset's Wine Club

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