A sommelier explains how to ask your waiter for wine you can afford without looking unsophisticated

Mark oldman officeCourtesy of Mark OldmanGood value and good price aren’t the same, says Mark Oldman, pictured.

Asking for a “good value” wine probably won’t get you a good price.

That’s according to sommelier Mark Oldman, who writes in “How to Drink Like a Billionaire” that he himself used to try and dance around the issue of price when ordering wine in a restaurant, using phrases like “a good value” or “a fair price,” or a bottle “easy on the wallet.”

He writes:

“I have discovered that such barely disguised innuendo would often yield distressingly pricey recommendations, because … even expensive wines are good value if they drink like an even costlier wine.”

When Oldman visits a restaurant now, he writes, he first asks “Who here knows the most about the wine?”

“It smokes out the wine mind while avoiding giving the waiter the impression he did not look polished enough to be the sommelier,” Oldman writes.

Then, when the sommelier or other expert arrives, Oldman asks, “This is a great list, but a lot of it is unfamiliar. Can I get your help?”

Finally, he gives the house sommelier some guidelines to work with:

  • Colour
  • Weight
  • Price

For the last, he recommends giving an explicit price point, like “I’d like to spend up to $US50 tonight,” or pointing to a price on the list if you’re embarrassed to say in front of your tablemates.

If you want to get more advanced, you can add a preferred style (like light-bodied white or full-bodied red) or quality (like earthy, oaky, or smooth).

He says that any good sommelier should be happy to help you with those guidelines without steering you to the most expensive offerings on the list. “The willingness to downsell may be the single greatest indicator of a special sommelier,” he writes, “since it demonstrates with crystalline clarity that she has prioritised your interests over hers.”

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