Stick to grapes or regions you’re unfamiliar with, and you’re more likely to get a good deal. Those of you who take advantage of restaurant meal offers may be taken aback that the final bill ends up being twice the amount you bargained for. The reason, of course, is wine and service.
Wine, in particular, is contentious. On the face of it, the mark-ups appear huge for what seems essentially just opening and pouring a bottle, but they reflect the costs involved: investment in stock, storage space, glasses and staff training all adds up. What I find hard to swallow, however, is that those mark-ups presumably also include service, and then service is charged again on the whole bill.
A good guiding principle is to go for grape varieties and wine regions that you may not have heard of – grapes such as falanghina, zweigelt and bobal, for example, or from lesser known areas of Italy, France and Spain. Wines from countries such as Greece, Hungary, Romania and Portugal generally represent good value, too, while unfashionable wines such as sherry (yes, still, amazingly) and muscadet are also rarely overpriced (though previously out-of-favour beaujolais is creeping up).
Finally, you might like to be reminded that, if a wine is corked or just tastes a bit tired, you should tell your server as soon as you taste it. Sometimes it may come from a bottle that’s been kept open too long. If it doesn’t seem right to you, don’t be palmed off by an “It’s supposed to be like that” response. That could be true with natural wines, but they should have flagged that up when you ordered it.