Top tips for decoding a wine list

Avoid big names and seek out smaller gems

Seek out smaller gems

Unless you have the cash to splash on a DRC or Petrus, such big names are generally off limits before you even pick up the list. In any case, such wines, even those less lofty but still notable, are likely (in most cases) to be overpriced, with restaurants knowing that the big names will always attract a sale or two. Chianti and Barolo are other examples, as are Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne. Generally, a particularly pricey bottle should be bought and enjoyed at home rather than in a restaurant, or brought to a restaurant that offers corkage. By all means stick to a reliable style or producer if you know what you are looking for, but restaurant wine lists offer the chance to try something quirky and unusual, and seeking out lesser-known regions, or producers, can be more rewarding than familiar favourites.

Wines from much of southern France, particularly the Languedoc and the Côtes du Rhône, and emerging regions such as Romania and Hungary, are producing increasingly good quality wines at the lower end, and are worth looking out for. Southern Italy is another good bet, particularly for its whites, although prices are creeping up as word gets out. Argentina and Chile are New World heavy weights that provide reliable and consistent wines in the middle ground, often, but not always, offering full-bodied, fruit-forward reds that will please a crowd. If you look hard enough within any region you will find lesser-known wines from producers that might not have the same clout as the biggest names, but will more often than not be of equal quality and of greater value.

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