A sommelier explains why you should buy the cheapest bottle on the wine list


Sommelier Mark Oldman knows your eye goes immediately to the cheapest wine on the list.

And he knows that many of us then move our glance over an inch, to select the second or third-lowest bottle so as not to seem, well ... cheap.

Another thing he knows? You're better off sticking with the cheapest.

In his book "How to Drink Like a Billionaire," Oldman writes that wine directors, restaurants, and sommeliers are on to your craftiness, and they've parried your move long before you arrived.

"Knowing that it will sell swiftly," writes Oldman of the wine director, "he may have slotted an overstocked bottle into the position on the list. Even worse, he may have marked up this wine more than any other, making it potentially the worst value on the list."

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Oldman continues:

"You are better served to order the cheapest wine, which diners often neglect out of fear or embarrassment and thus is often a better value. Just make sure you do so at a restaurant that cares about its wine, where even modestly prices wines are of admirable quality."

You know you're at such an establishment, he explains, by the presence of knowledgeable servers, thoughtful commentary on the wine list, and interesting wines offered by the glass.

That said, however, he writes that although the presence of interesting by-the-glass offerings is reassuring, it's rarely cheaper to choose one.

"Wines by the glass are so marked up that it is practically industry scripture that the cost of the first glass covers what that restaurant paid wholesale for the bottle," he writes. Instead, knowing a typical bottle holds five five-ounce servings, he recommends dividing the price of a bottle by five to figure out how much you're paying for a glass.

"When it comes down to it, any chimpanzee can peddle good wines that cost a fortune," he writes. "Truly talented sommeliers are able to find and sell deliciousness at the lowest end of the list."

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