I was in a restaurant with some friends recently when, inevitably, I was handed the wine list and asked to choose something nice for the group to drink. I’d got as far as asking whether people preferred red or white when the person on my left offered the suggestion of the ‘3rd cheapest wine on the list’.
Not surprisingly, I queried the idea. The reply was interesting: ‘the restaurant will know that no-one wants to buy the cheapest wine on the list, so they put the biggest profit mark-up on the 2nd cheapest. So, the 3rd cheapest is probably best value for money’. I would hope that not many restaurants were quite that cynical in their approach although I have often had the sense that famous names such as Chablis, Rioja and Chianti have attracted a bigger mark-up than less well-known bottles.
But what about 3rd cheapest as a strategy? What happens if you don’t know the wine or whether it will go with the food you are choosing? Or, even worse, if you do know the wine and hate it? Do you trade up or trade down? Perhaps you decide to just drink water instead?
For those who really aren’t confident about finding their way round a wine list, I have a better suggestion: decide about how much you want to pay then, when your server comes to ask, point to a couple of bottles on the list at around that price and say, ‘I’m thinking of something like this, but what do you recommend?’ That way, you’re not going to be offered the dearest wine on the list and you will get some advice from someone who, hopefully, knows the wines on the list better than you.
So what did I choose? A nice Old Vine Carignan from the south of France. I thought it would go perfectly with the food we had ordered. It just happened to be the 3rd cheapest red wine on the list!