Navigating those encyclopedia-sized wine lists can be a major headache, but follow Luxury London's pointers and you can’t go too far wrong
Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t an art, or certainly not a science, in choosing wine at a restaurant. It’s simply a matter of taste, budget and preference. Choose intelligently and don’t get ripped off:
1. In any restaurant, starting with a glass of house white or red while perusing the wine list is always a good idea. It’s quality will clue you in as to whether this is a cellar to take seriously. A poor, flat or neutral house wine is a likely foretelling of what’s to come, so don’t bother to spend a lot.
2. Sommeliers can be your friend. A good sommelier won’t baffle you with jargon and will instead help you choose a bottle that’s right for you. But equally, they can be hellbent on shifting surplus stock. So be very wary of repeated announcements concerning ‘a special offer’ on a certain wine. It’s likely to be mediocre, at best.
3. If you want better value for money then the so-called ‘New World’ offers some real gems. Wines from Chile or South Africa, for example, are likely to deliver more flavour than their European equivalents.
4. However, European wines from Germany, Italy and Spain are usually slower to move and also better value. Rioja offers particularly good value, as does German Riesling and Italian whites like Vermentino.
5. Stay away from the second cheapest wine on the list. It’s the wine with the highest mark-up, as restaurants know that nobody wants to look cheap.
6. Let’s talk bubbles. Many restaurants, especially Michelin-starred venues, slap a gigantic mark-up on Champagne and Prosecco by the glass. To add insult to injury, the bottle may have been open for hours, and moreover, the price of just one glass is often more than half the total cost of an equivalent bottle in retail. If you fancy some fizz, it’s much more sensible to order an entire bottle and share it with friends.
7. If you feel like spending serious sums on an expensive bottle of Bordeaux or Burgundy then take precautions. These wines can be memorable, but remember you are paying over the odds, as that bottle will often cost at least two to three times the retail price. There is also the crucial issue of vintage. The quality of the harvest in a particular year is everything in regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy: the more cynical sommelier will buy up weaker vintages at a discount price, slap on that mark-up and count on a name selling
8. Finally, don’t forget that BYOB in London is on the rise. Once confined to Asian restaurants, many top venues will now allow you to bring your own bottle for a modest corkage. The following is a selection of leading restaurants that offer BYOB deals:
Hakkasan Mayfair, M Grill, Vinoteca (various locations), Hix Oyster and Chop House, Hawksmoor (various locations)
Below is a list of memorable Bordeaux and Burgundy vintages:
Left bank Bordeaux (Medoc)
2010, 2009, 2008, 2005, 2001, 2000, 1996, 1995, 1990
Right bank Bordeaux
2010, 2009, 2008, 2005, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1990
2010, 2009, 2005, 2002, 1999, 1995, 1990
2010, 2009, 2008, 2005, 2002, 1996, 1995