Restaurant wine lists: How to choose wisely

Yes, restaurant wine lists are overpriced. Here, a top sommelier offers three tips to ordering a good bottle (without breaking the bank).

Restaurant wine lists seem to freak people out—you’re captive there, and someone else has arranged the selection. And oy, the markup!

Travelers need help deciphering wine lists, so today I enlist Liz Martinez, the sommelier and manager of the Purple Pig in Chicago, where the motto is “Cheese, Swine and Wine.” These are her tips:

Look for countries with deep benches.

Some countries make wine in pretty much every region. “You can almost always find a good value in the Italian or Spanish section of a wine list,” she says. True: The southern stretches of all the Mediterranean countries tend to have good deals. As much as I love the West Coast of the U.S., it’s getting harder and harder to find value there, once you add in restaurant markups.

There’s no shame in talking price.

Don’t shy away from giving the sommelier your price range. I do it all the time, whether it’s a pizza night or anniversary time. Martinez adds: “The sweet spot on a list for me is that $50-$60 range. Much of what you find in that category will usually be a good value. Between $70-$80, you start to see wines that I believe most people are treating themselves with. That extra $10-$20 can turn it up a notch.”