Commentary: A Utah wine expert’s tips on how to order like a pro

Jim Santangelo, from the Wine Institute of Utah, imparts some of his wisdom

(Jim Santangelo) Jim Santangelo, founder of the Wine Institute of Utah.

Ever wonder what wine to order when you go out to eat? Find yourself ordering the same type of wine over and over again, just to find out it didn’t go with the meal? Or you are handed the wine list and everyone’s waiting for you to choose the wine to begin?

We have you covered. Here are some quick tips on navigating any restaurant wine list.

Tip #1: By the glass

Order from the wine-by-the-glass list when dining alone or with another guest. These single-serve wine portions are designed to pair with at least one item on the lunch or dinner menu. For example, if you order a pasta Bolognese, the list should have the wine that classically pairs with it (a Chianti Classico). If you are unsure, ask your server for guidance.

Pro tip: Order a ‘split glass’ of wine with a friend. Splitting a glass of wine and having a half-glass allows you to explore the menu, take a chance on a wine you’ve not had before, and introduce your palate to new flavors.

Tip #2: Start with bubbles

Order a bottle of sparkling wine to start dinner off with a bang. When out to dinner with friends or a larger group of people, look for a reasonably priced Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain, and kick things off with bubbles. It’ll mark the occasion as celebratory, and the high acidity of the wine pairs well with most appetizers. And it’ll buy you time to decide what bottle of wine to get next.

Pro tip: If dining solo, look for split bottles (375 ml) of sparkling wine and enjoy a premium Champagne without committing to a full bottle and price.

Tip #3: Back of the book

Start from the back of the wine list. Some restaurants have more extensive beverage menus, and the end of the beverage list often holds what I call the “hidden gems,” where you can find from large formats of wine, out-of-season wines (such as a rosé in the winter that has developed beautifully), or wines with just a few remaining bottles in inventory that may have been listed at a discount. Using this technique, I found an old vintage Riesling that sang!

Pro tip: If you’re eating Italian, look for a wine on the list not in the region. You may find a bottle of Rioja from Spain on the list affordably priced, and still pairs well with dinner.

Jim Santangelo is the founder of the Wine Institute of Utah. He also dispenses wisdom about wine and spirits on Fridays on X96′s “Radio From Hell” show. This commentary first appeared in the Utah Eats newsletter on March 1.