Wine ordering dos and don'ts: How to talk to a sommelier

Don't be shy, sommeliers are there to help guide your wine selection.
Don't be shy, sommeliers are there to help guide your wine selection. Photo: Marco Del Grande

Ask for help

Asking for help doesn't make you look clueless – the opposite. Any sommelier will tell you their more confident customers are most likely to seek advice.

Don't be shy

"I always like the idea of having a chat with a sommelier, if they're handy," says wine writer and P&V Wine & Liquor Merchants co-founder Mike Bennie. "For me, an easy way of getting something good to drink is to describe wines by their weight or feel, which simply means asking for 'light and fresh white wine' or 'medium-bodied red', not too complicated, and generally you will get something in your flavour wheel."

Have a price range

Do "have a price range you are willing to spend on a bottle of wine, and style of wine or grape variety," says Damian Moylan, sommelier at Beechworth's Provenance restaurant. "This basic information will give a good sommelier enough information to point you in the right direction."

Reveal your likes

Don't simply ask "What do you recommend?" "The more we know about our guests' likes and dislikes, the more tailored the experience," says Igni's Joanna Smith. Tell the somm what you normally like or recently enjoyed, and if there's anything you hate.

Don't ask "What's your favourite?" Ditto "What's the best wine on the list?" "What's best for me might not be best for you," says Leanne Altmann. "I tend not to think of wine in such a binary way. For me, wine is so influenced by when you drink it, what you're eating, who you're with."

Keep an open mind

Do inquire about anything unusual – maybe the way the list is structured or an individual wine – and be open to exploring. "What I would like to see is more customers with an open mind and willing to try something new or different," says Tim Perlstone, co-owner of Sydney's Wine Library.