House Red Vs A $200 Bottle? A Wine Expert Explains Why There Is No Wrong Choice

Friends toasting at a restaurant
Friends toasting at a restaurant - Asiavision/Getty Images

Choosing a bottle of wine when dining out can quickly turn stressful and fraught with uncertainty. Opting for the house red or white could diminish your dining experience, while purchasing an expensive bottle could leave you concerned about your budget. To find a solution to this common wine conundrum, Daily Meal spoke with Doreen Winkler, owner of Orange Glou in New York City. As the first and only wine shop focused solely on orange wines (which involves a skin-contact winemaking technique that's responsible for orange wine's notable color), Winkler has some smart advice to help you select a quality bottle.

First, it helps to understand what "house red" or "house white" means. According to Winkler, "House wine is typically wine the restaurant orders in bulk and sells to customers at a good profit margin." The sommelier and natural wine purveyor said house wines can be "decent," but there's usually a more favorable choice available. However, Winkler urges diners to factor in their personal preferences, stating, "It is about your own taste buds and what you like for yourself -- if you like the wine, enjoy it!"

Read more: 10 Of The Healthiest Beers You Can Drink

Maintaining A Balance Between Budget And Taste

Server presenting bottle of wine
Server presenting bottle of wine - Nosystem Images/Getty Images

Keep in mind that a more expensive bottle of wine won't always taste better than more economical options. Doreen Winkler echoes this sentiment, recommending that you take into account both "what you like and what you can afford." Accordingly, she notes, "If there is a bottle of Vinho Verde on the menu for a reasonable $35 and you and your friends enjoy it, then that is a great option." Sometimes called green wine, Vinho Verde hails from Portugal's northern border and is known for its high acidity, typical lack of aging, and fruit-forward flavor, which is often compared to melon, apples, citrus fruits, and even lemonade.

On the other hand, it's perfectly fine to splurge on an expensive bottle when money allows. As Winkler explains, "If you can afford the $2000 bottle and it will make your night, then go for it." While that's likely not an option for most people, the point remains that enjoying any wine is mostly about the experience and your personal preferences, regardless of how much you're spending on a bottle.

How To Tell Whether A Restaurant's House Red Is Worth Your Money

Person smelling wine
Person smelling wine - Alvarez/Getty Images

In the event you're curious about the quality of a house wine, Doreen Winkler offers a very practical tip. She recommends that patrons "taste the house wine before ordering it" to evaluate its quality, going on to say that sampling wine before purchasing a bottle is "something most restaurants will let you do."

To most effectively sample a wine, begin by savoring the aroma. Quality wines will give off notes recalling flowers, berries, cinnamon, coffee, or tobacco, depending on the variety. When tasting, consider the flavors and textures of the wine. Wine flavors range from sour to sweet, from smoky and earthy to grassy, and some also contain palatable hints of bitterness. Texture relates to mouthfeel, with some wines being more robust on the tongue than others. A bad wine may taste like vinegar, lack a juicy fruit flavor, and give off unpleasant smells (including mold and sulfur).

Even without Winkler's impressive credentials, most people can detect when a wine is low quality, and everyone can tell when they outright dislike something. While you can add soda to rescue a bad wine at home, the practice is likely to be frowned upon at certain restaurants. If you're not satisfied with the house option after tasting, don't be afraid to ask for a different wine.

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