How to pick the best bottle on any wine list

Interested in strategies that anyone, even complete novices, can use to sniff out a wine list's hidden bargains?

You've come to the right place.

These are the top five tips to find the best bottle on any (decent) wine list. 

1. Order the unpronounceable

In general, the harder a wine is to pronounce, the less popular it is because everyone is afraid to tackle its syllables. That lower demand often makes the wine a good value.

Chardonnay gets marked up; Agioritiko from Greece, not so much. If you really want to say it properly, use your smartphone to Google its pronunciation.

So important is this lesson that I even teach a seminar called "Hard to Say, Easy to Drink."

2. Discover the chef's or sommelier's go-to

If the server seems knowledgeable and game, I will simply ask, "What does the chef or somm drink when she is off duty?"

It tends to be something less obvious and affordably priced.

3. Look for an outlier

If the list is short enough to get a quick overview, see if there is only one example of a certain type, such as a Falanghina from Italy on a mostly Australian list, or a local riesling on a Eurocentric menu.


This is likely a wine that the sommelier chose not out of thematic necessity but because he or she loves it and wants you to share his or her enthusiasm. Accordingly, it is often priced fairly to reward you for sharing his or her interest.

4. Seek the secret, off-list bottle

It can't hurt to ask your sommelier about what he or she is gaga about, adding, "even it if isn't on the list."

Good sommeliers keep a secret stash of bottles that are no longer stocked or are set aside for favoured customers.

These wines often are from places where he or she has grown up or lived, so inquire about his or her background to get the ball rolling. If your server takes a shine to you, he or she may just make it appear on your table.

5. Think Spain

No other major wine-producing country produces such a range of dependably delicious and affordable wines in every style.

Bubbly? Cava, Txakoli from Basque country.

White? So many, including the almost prime-time Albariño, the Sauvignon Blanc–like Verdejo, the up-and-coming Godello.

Reds—the list is endless, from old friends such as Rioja and Ribera del Duero to the medium-weight Mencía from Bierzo to rich, plummy blends fromYecla, Jumilla, and Castilla y Leon.

This extract was taken from Mark Oldman's third wine book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire: Mastering Wine With Joie de Vivre, from Regan Arts.