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Do you trust restaurant wine recommendations?


We were just discussing awkward wine moments and @Markharrison252 made a very interesting point about upselling in restaurants (I’ll transfer his post to the replies below this topic) and I wondered what you all thought.

Do you trust wine recommendations made by waiting staff/Maitre Ds/sommeliers in restaurants? Do you have any horror stories about up-selling attempts gone wrong, or any lovely memories of a sommelier helping you discover an amazing, unforgettable bottle/food match?

I’ve had the usual annoying encounters at restaurants on holiday where the waiter has tried to sell me overpriced, very average Chianti just because I’m in Italy, but I’ve also had lovely conversations with waiting staff at The Pig Hotel in the New Forest, who helped me navigate their super-long and exciting wine list and find a gorgeous Uruguayan viognier.

What about you?

The "secret codes" for buying better wine
Awkward wine lover moments

Yes. It was all very good natured - lots of banter. And when you lose a bet you have to pay up don’t you?

Mind you - upselling: now there’s a whole topic. I’ve learned never to accept a suggested wine from a waiter in a chain or mid-scale restaurant. Or, if I’m feeling cruel, I ask them to explain to me exactly why it is better - the grape, producer etc - knowing they will know nothing and have just been instructed to shift it. My oldest daughter once worked in Giraffe. She was teetotal at the time. Whenever someone ordered a wine she always recommended the one that was one price point above. She says people always - always - agreed to have the more expensive bottle. They didn’t want to look mean.


I have a memory of a time I took my wife to a very well respected Italian restaurant in the City (I shall not mention exactly which one) for a special meal since we rarely ate out together because of a young family.

I knew the place well and a friend used to be Head Sommelier there, so I had high expectations. Unfortunately, the wine I asked for was unavailable for some reason, so the Sommelier came over and mentioned this to me, and suggested an alternative. He gave a perfectly good explanation and reasoning for the advice and the match, and I trusted him, so agreed. I also no longer had the wine list in my hands!!

It was only when we got the bill that I realised that what he had recommended from the extensive list was something twice the price of what I had originally ordered, and that had already been a decent price. I can say that we were not amused, and my wife was fuming, both with them and with me for not checking. … but we are British and we don’t want to risk embarrassment by talking money at the table, right?

Needless to say we never went back there, and have been more careful since.

It is such a shame when that happens, as it is completely unnecessary, and plenty of sommeliers would never dream of doing this to someone, but it gives the trade a bad name when it does.


That is such disappointing behaviour. I wonder if it actually breaks the Sommelier code? I have found that really good Sommeliers relish the challenge of finding a wine to suit an enthusiastic pauper. I like to tell them my (always embarrassingly low) upper price point, and ask what they would recommend within that. I can see that is more fun for them than a wealthy person who just buys a famous name wine because they can.


Oh no! We had exactly the same thing happen to us too, in a totally-overpriced-up-its-own-backside-and-not-worth-the-hype Cornish hotel we stayed at on a press trip a few years back (so bad I actually refused to review it in the end!), but thankfully in our case it was only a bottle of beer at the bar before dinner! Still, it was about three times the price of the (already nice) one my husband had ordered, and it wasn’t even that good.

The audacity of doing it when the wine already has a huge markup anyway…!


I often find myself drinking beer in restaurants, quite a few places, even some quite smart ones have either a boring or overpriced wine list. There are some wonderful exceptions, and at the cheaper end Bristol is blessed with some great, cheap BYO places. Enjoyed the Alain Graillot Syrah du Maroc ‘Tandem’ at WS prices with a nice tagine!


I prefer BYOB even when the corkage is not cheap i.e. > GBP 25…


It could be a damning indictment of restaurants that BYOB has been suggested…however as mentioned on another topic, a leeds restaurant ‘Ham and friends’ does 50ml samples which goes well with the tasting plates so it removes all risk of recommendations and i think the most expensive sample is under a fiver. Probably a solid 20 to choose from.

I can’t actually remember the last time i bought a whole bottle in a restaurant!


The other reason I often prefer to pay corkage is the opportunity eating out offers to match the quality of food with the quality of the wine. I’m talking about a scenario where you either know or are confident about the quality of both. If I’ve spent > GBP30 on a bottle I’m more likely to find an appropriate food pairing to enjoy it with if I am not doing the cooking…

Wine is so ridiculously expensive in restaurants that I can’t see how this approach could not be good value for money.

I recently went to an excellent London restaurant and had meant to take this:

**shame the pictures stopped working!

(Domaine Gauby La Roque Blanc, Côtes Catalanes 2011 - currently available at GBP 58 from TWS and not on the restaurant’s wine list

There was some last minute distraction before I left for the restaurant and I literally forgot to take it.

On the wine list was this:

(Le Soula Blanc, Côtes Catalanes, Gauby 2011 - currently available at GBP 20 from TWS and on the restaurant’s wine list at GBP 65)

Looking for a match for my intended wine, I drank the Le Soula Blanc and spent GBP 65 instead of the La Roque Blanc at GBP 78 (my purchase price + expected corkage of GBP 20).

Which makes better sense? Any opinions?


Definitely the corkage option - especially as you can be sure you like what you’re drinking - although I wonder: does that mean you study the menu (if at all possible!) before you get to the restaurant so you can match the wine you’re bringing to the food?! And if not, is it worth it to bring a good bottle of wine, or is it better to have a sommelier/server you can trust to give genuine, helpful advice on a reasonably priced wine match?

That said, if you don’t mind too much about food-matching, you’re certainly getting much better value by paying corkage… although I personally think £25 is a bit steep! I wouldn’t normally pay over £20 - am I alone in this or have I been spoilt by not having much experience of city restaurants (I’m a small-town girl!) ?

This sounds INCREDIBLE! Worth a trip to Leeds just to try this. Does anyone know of other restaurants that offer this?


You can really double up and visit their outstanding bottle shop with real one-off wines, deli and cheese counter and a day course with the yorkshire wine school, which runs from there.

My wine voyage at some point in 2018 is to visit the stevenage showroom for a tasting :slight_smile:

On the corkage front, you buy any wine in the bottle shop and stick a tenner on if you’re having it in the restaurant


There is a wonderful restaurant near central station in Newcastle called The French Quarter where they will allow you to sample a wine or a number of wines before you make a decision, all you have to do is ask. They are very accommodating and have a lovely wine list and menu.


Fantastic! See, this is the kind of flexible, accessible thinking we need to see at more restaurants, and is just the sort of thing that would make me trust a restaurant, and see it stand out from ‘trendy-but-superficial’ peers.

If ANYONE has any other examples of restaurants that offer this kind of service, (or the 50ml samples etc @Nowt_in_my_glass mentioned in the post before) then please fire them my way! I might try to visit them all as my challenge for 2018… :smiley::heart_eyes:


Leeds is clearly at the vanguard of these things :grin: I’d be really interested to see the condition of these wines compared to the samples by machine in specialist wine bars as i think I’ve seen in other posts


We could perhaps create a WIKI topic similar to:

@robert_mcintosh your thoughts?


I’ve no issue if others think they have content to add, and maybe you want to take charge (to promote the list).


I tend to trust the sommelier and often ask for advice, but this only applies at a certain sort of place. If someone comes up to me wearing a black jacket with a bunch of grapes pinned to the lapel and hands me a bound 80 page book from which to choose, I trust them. Another clue is when the server goes to fetch the sommelier. My normal tactic is to point at a couple bottles I am interested in then ask if those would be good choices or not with what we’ve ordered. That accomplishes a few things: 1) lets them know I have enough knowledge to at least understand the list 2) gives an indication of the styles I prefer and 3) hints at what I’d like to spend. I generally find I get good wines that are appropriate.

Two anecdotes spring to mind. The first was at Locanda Locatelli for a special birthday meal. I found a particularly cheap chianti that i wanted, not because of the price but because it was from a relatively obscure sub region and I wanted to try it. The sommelier tried to persuade me to buy a different bottle and he was pretty insistent, saying it wouldn’t stand up to the food and he was sure I’d like the (more expensive) bottle he’d chosen. Long story short, I stuck to my guns and regretted it. The wine was totally lost, like drinking water with my truffles.

The second story was pre-theatre at Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden. I can’t remember what white I tried to order with my sole, but the stern female German sommelier refused. Literally, refused to bring what I asked and gave me (I think) a Chablis instead, which was obviously perfect. I thanked her for it as we left, and meant it.


I have had some very useful revelations with sommeliers, particularly with tasting menus. Sometimes you just will get the suggested wine pairings of course, but on one occasion at The Savoy for one of my “big” birthdays, we were with friends in the kitchen table area of the restaurant with no idea about what we were going to be served to eat. I spoke with the sommelier about having one specific bottle that I had seen on their very extensive list which gave a hint about how much I was looking to spend in general (modestly, I hasten to add) and we agreed on how many different wines we would have.
Eleven courses and four hours later, we left having had the most fantastic time. We could see the culinary efforts that went into making our experience, we met the Italian truffle supplier who snuck into the back of the kitchen with his pockets full of those black diamonds (one of them went into our buttery mashed potatoes as a “treat” from the chef for taking such interest), and the wines were perfect and very varied.
When we got our bill, the wine I had chosen was the most expensive.


Went to ham and friends last night. Fantastic venue, great list. BUT, why is it ok for organic wine to smell like cider and taste fizzy? Some of it actually tastes awful. And they sell it as if it’s good. Esoteric hipster iWine.

Someone please confirm this experience.


The more I’ve got to know about wine, the harder it is to stomach buying it when out. Even in decent places - Hawksmoor have 2015 Ch Saint Cosme Gigondas at £65/bottle. First problem - far too young to drink at its best. But also three times the WS EP price - allegedly more places price progressively i.e. incentivise trading up by putting the highest margins on the cheaper end of the list - but not seen much evidence.

I tend to go for regions and countries that punch above their weight - cru beaujolais, Languedoc, Portugal, Argentina, Chile unless its the cheapest thing on the list - and prefer stuff that won’t suffer from a lack of decanting. Probably best experiences recently have been Galvin, particularly the Nouveau out of a carafe was a joy.