From dives to chain restaurants, there are plenty of watering holes that focus predominantly on spirits and beer. But if you walk into one of these spots with a hankering for a glass of wine, there are typically just a handful of options to choose from. Unlike macro beers and spirits, which are for the most part “safe” to order no matter where you go, wine can be more hit or miss. VinePair consulted tastings director Keith Beavers for the dos and don’ts of ordering a glass at a place where the wine list seems like an afterthought at best.
“If you get to the table and have the menu in hand and there’s wine on the list with no indication of who made it, where it’s from, or what it is — if they’re not taking the time to put the information about the wine they want to sell you on the list — it’s not a wine-centric place,” says Beavers.
Still craving a glass of vino despite the red flags? Beavers suggests going for a white wine. Opt for unoaked varieties — like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio — as they tend to be perfect for easy drinking, no matter the price point. “Oak exposure to wine is different depending on the wine and the winemaker,” he says. For that reason, Beavers recommends steering clear of that buttery Chardonnay on the dive bar menu, no matter how tantalizing the price point seems.
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“For red wines, it’s a little more tough,” he admits, “but honestly, I would go for a red blend.” That’s because, while ordering certain varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noirs can be a gamble quality-wise, the red blend category offers wines that are generally smooth, soft, and easy to drink. These wines are typically full-bodied, homogenous, slightly sweet, and rarely reach unbalanced and unappealing extremes in terms of tannins or acidity.
Of course, these are only guidelines. You could still receive a too-sweet Pinot Grigio that ends up getting poured down the drain, or a red wine lacking balance. If a foolproof option is what you seek, says Beavers, sparkling is your best bet. “There is more quality, affordable sparkling wine on the market than any other category,” he explains. “From Cava to Prosecco to American sparklers, there’s always going to be a sparkling wine that’s easy to drink. It may not be the best sparkling wine you’ve ever had, but it’s very hard for these establishments to buy the sh*ttiest of sh*t with sparkling wine.”