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May we see the wine list — please?

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From by-the-glass most lists launched into a standard format that divides the white wine from the red, usually by grape variety. Other techniques include a more traditional listing of wine by country and region.

Here on the West Coast it has become fashionable to separate the so-called Old World wines of Europe from the New World efforts of the United States, Canada and the southern hemisphere. Within each country you may discover some regional sorting such as Italy — Piemonte — Barolo. Whatever the format, once you become familiar with the layout, finding most wines isn’t complicated.

Often, within the groupings, the selections are arranged by price. Others mix the order in the hope that you will read the entire list and not just the selections that most suit your budget. Still others have fixed prices, offering selections at various price points such as $19, $29, and $39. It is here that customers, with particularly fine-tuned pricing knowledge, can often find bottles sporting less than the full 100 per cent (and some times plus) mark-up.

Restaurants with more advanced wine programs normally offer a small range of specialty, high-end products either within the main selections or on a completely separate list. The list represents the best they have to offer, which means selections are limited and they tend to change often.

Now that you know what the lists might look like you need a buying strategy. If your grape knowledge is low to moderate choose white wine that is less than three years old – and the simpler the wine the younger it should be. Reds should have an extra year or two of age if you can find them, particularly the cabernet-based labels that tend to have drier tannins when young.

When it comes to what to spend my advice is to head for the middle of the list. The least expensive wines rarely offer value and it’s much the same at the top of the list where you will often pay a premium for the very best. Moving to the middle ground, some 20 per cent from the top and bottom of a wine list, almost always puts you in the best value zone.

Keep in mind that simple food is best with simple wine so don’t out think yourself, and if you need help, ask.

Now, may we see the wine list, please!

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