At the end of a long day, a glass of wine can set you right. There seems to be a wine for every occasion: straight from the bottle on your couch, at a bar with co-workers, or on a romantic date. But with so much to choose from, how can you pick the perfect wine?

Owner of Frasca Food and Wine and Master Sommelier, Bobby Stuckey, explained that it is really all about context and an eagerness to learn. First and foremost, Stuckey explained it is not necessarily his expertise that makes him such an authority on this subject. “I think what makes me most able to give advice on how to order [wine] comfortably in a restaurant is that I am a wine fan as much as I am a wine professional,” he said. “I see it through the eyes of an enthusiast.”

That being said, here are a few of Stuckey’s tips to not feel like a complete beginner when ordering at the dinner table.

1. Know Your Context

First off, it’s important to know what kind of night you are looking to have to let the wine set the tone. “Before I even open it up I ask the people I’m dining with, ‘what are you in the mood for?’” said Stuckey. “I think it’s all about context.”

frasca food and wine

Bobby Stuckey in Fracsa. Photo by Ralena Gordon.

The context can be tough if you feel like you’re a real beginner, but don’t be intimidated. Whether restaurants have a point of view, a specific region featured on their wine list, or just some options they really love, they want you to try and taste to find the one that’s right for you.

“The one thing I do, it doesn’t matter if you are a Master Sommelier or this is your first bottle of wine, you kind of want to have a game plan of really what you’re comfortable spending,” said Stuckey. No matter what kind of restaurant or wine shop you’re getting into, it’s good to have a price range already set. By building your own context, even before you sit down, you will ensure that no matter what wine you end up ordering, you’ll be comfortable—something of the utmost importance if you want to enjoy your night.

“I’m always amazed how few people ask for help. I still love asking for help from the wine director of that restaurant.” – Bobby Stuckey

“I think that price can be limiting and I also don’t think everything has to be more expensive to be better,” said Stuckey. “You have to realize there are certain regions of the world that are inherently more expensive. That doesn’t mean the wine is better.” Your choice of wine does not have to suffer as a result of your budget, so don’t let that deter you when you start.

2. Ask Questions

“I’m always amazed how few people ask for help,” said Stuckey. “I still love asking for help from the wine director of that restaurant. Because no matter even if they don’t have the same experience I do, they have a lot of experience with their list and they are going to be able to guide you way better than just an expert getting plopped down on the list.”

Photo courtesy of Frasca Food and Wine.

Photo courtesy of Frasca Food and Wine.

Approaching wine as a true beginner can be daunting, especially when the wine list can be longer than the actual menu. That’s where the establishment’s staff should be able to steer you in the right direction. Tell them about what you are thinking about eating or spending and maybe even some flavors you know you enjoy. Once they get a sense of your context, they’ll be able to answer your questions with ease.

“Wine is something you can do for your whole life once you turn 21, right? So, it doesn’t cost that much money to learn what you like and what you want to enjoy by asking people advice,” said Stuckey.

3. Drink What You Like

Unfortunately, there’s no beginner’s list of wine to help you find your taste and preference. By asking questions and tasting more and more, you’ll begin to get a sense of wines that you like and those that you don’t.

“As much as we would like to think, there [aren’t] baby training wheels to finding out what you like,” said Stuckey. “Let’s say you like things that are citrusy—then you should drink something that’s citrusy.” The bottom line is, no matter the variations or price, you should drink wine that you enjoy.

So, maybe you prefer a local IPA or that perfect margarita at the end of your day. However, maybe now is the time to branch out. Don’t abandon your favorite drink—because it will always be there waiting—but start asking more questions. Don’t put away the wine list because it’s too long or the language isn’t necessarily English. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be able to impress a date, or your date’s parents. Maybe if you taste enough, you’ll be able to find your own perfect wine and get to know what it is that you like.