Cathy Gowdie

mko010821.001.001  Pic by Marina Oliphant. SThe Age, Epicure, Melbourne, WINE LIST:Pic shows the wine list at Charcoal Grill on the Hill, at 289 High St, Kew.
Wine buffs know the most flagrant mark-ups are often found on what appear to be the least expensive bottles. Photo: Marina Oliphant

The husband of a couple we know is a bit of a wine buff and tends to take charge of ordering wine when we are out. We end up drinking some interesting wines but they are always expensive. I don't want to spend $80-plus on a bottle of wine every time we get together, but I also don't want to be the person on the table querying his choices and asking how much they cost.

Do I know you? Because I know this scenario only too well, with my husband guest-starring in the role of guy-who-gets-excited-about-kinda-pricey-wine.

It starts with four or six of you at the table making small talk. The wine list arrives and Mr Wine Buff exits the conversation to enter a kind of trance, poring over the document with furrowed brow and occasional nodding, like a scholar examining the Dead Sea Scrolls. If the list is a very long one, he is likely to be some time - you should order an aperitif or risk dying of thirst.

This species of buff loves talking about wine almost as much as he loves drinking it, so interrupt the trance and get him chatting. Ask him how he goes about choosing wine.

It doesn't have to sound as if you're confronting him. Try framing it as a request for information or advice.

What, in his view, makes a good wine list? How does he go about spotting a good buy under, say, $50?

What would be his pick of them on this list? How about trying one? This appeal to vanity should do the trick.

However, don't expect him to order the cheapest wine on the list. If he knows his stuff, he will be aware that the most flagrant wine mark-ups are often found on what appear to be the least expensive bottles, with better value in the middle price range.

If this doesn't work, you'll need to tackle the issue more directly, but I appreciate that it can feel awkward, once you're at the table, to come out and say you don't want to spend much.

Try to have the conversation at the time the invitation is issued (''thanks, we'd love to come but we're really trying to budget at the moment - is it OK with you if we keep the costs down on wine and so on?'').

Or do the inviting yourself, to a restaurant where you can BYO and stipulate that you should all bring an interesting bottle.