How to Order Wine at a Restaurant – Wine Pairing 101

What is the difference between red & white wines? How do you choose the right wine to pair with dinner? How do you know which wine to order when we go out to eat?

Wine comes in all sorts of varieties, with different flavors, from all over the world. Each type has its own tasting notes that it is well known for from Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs to Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons.

Where to start can be a bit daunting, but with a few pointers, wine can become your best friend.

Wine 101


Typically a sweeter wine, Rieslings can be great for beginners and tend to pair well with mild meats and sweet desserts. Dishes like Cajun shrimp etouffee and classic creme brulee truly make Rieslings shine. With its fruity, lightly sweet taste and refreshingly crisp acidity, Rieslings pair wonderfully with spicy dishes, helping to keep the heat at bay.

Sauvignon Blancs

Less sweet with higher levels of acidity, Sauvignon Blanc tends to be a more balanced wine. With notes of herbs and grasses plus its lip smacking tartness, Sauvignon Blanc tends to pair well with rich foods and desserts, like triple chocolate brownies or shrimp alfredo. While it does tend to be acidic, it remains a lighter wine since it does maintain some fruity notes.


Venturing a little further into the realm of wines, we come across Merlots with their more full bodied flavors and moderate levels of tannins. While Merlots are considered slightly fruity and silky, they are still less sweet than their cousin Sauvignon Blanc. Instead, you typically come across notes of plums, coffee, and chocolate. Merlots tend to pair well with red meats, heavier dishes, and fruit filled desserts such as a good roast or blackberry tarts.

Cabernet Sauvignons

The rich red wine with a punch, Cabernets really bring the flavor. If you are looking for a sweet wine, steer clear of Cabernet, but if balance is your goal, grab a bottle. With its deep purple color, loads of tannins, and extremely mild fruity notes, Cabernet makes any meal a delight. Notes of dark fruits, oak, smoke, and cassis tend to abound in Cabernets making them an ideal pair for steak or even a spicy tuna roll. Beware though, pairing Cabernet Sauvignons with spicy foods tends to amp up the spice and can set your mouth on fire.

There are really to tried and true rules for how to drink wine, though you can find countless opinions scattered throughout the internet. The best rule to follow when drinking wine is to have fun and enjoy every drop, whether it is on a couch or at a restaurant. If you’re worried or confused, simply ask your server or the shopkeeper. Just don’t forget, wine is best enjoyed with company.


Traveling to Charlottesville, VA? Did you know one of the most underrated wine regions in the United States is there? Be sure to read this post. 

Virginia Dog Friendly Wineries


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