Should I Order the House Wine in Restaurants?
Wine Questions Answered
By Paul Howard
Q: In your experience, would you say us non-wine buffs get a raw deal by forever asking for the house white in restaurants?
K. De Venuto
A: In my experience, house wines are rarely a good buy, its purpose is to provide an easy and less expensive option for those that feel intimidated by the wine list. However, these wines are likely to be inferior, having been bought in bulk at huge discounts, so their mark-up will usually be larger than with better and more expensive wines too.
Better value and quality can be had by trading up. Order your meal first and don’t be shy of asking for wine recommendations in your price range to match the food. A good restaurant should pride itself on knowledgeable and helpful staff and want you to come back, so will be happy to help. If you prefer not to ask then many restaurants offer a range of wines by the glass, which can be a good way of experimenting.
Q: Does opening a cheapo bottle of wine and letting it ‘breathe’ really help the taste?
A: Letting any wine breathe by opening it an hour or two beforehand cannot improve the taste. This is because only a tiny surface area is exposed to air compared to the volume in the bottle so there is precious little effect.
Inexpensive wines are usually made to be consumed immediately on opening in any case. Decanting the whole bottle may be worth considering with better quality wines, particularly if they are young, tannic or have sediment, but these are exceptions.