Wine 101: Do Others Judge You By What Wine You Drink?

It’s tough not to judge people based on what wine they order….sounds terrible, yes, but it’s true. Let me explain.

This week’s article was prompted by another article, on what bartenders think of your drink orders: However, instead of explaining things, the article took a tongue-in-cheek approach about if you order a certain kind of wine you come from a certain economic level.

Wine Etiquette For Everyone by Eve Bushman Available Now on Amazon.comWhat I’m thinking of is something I went through as a wine 101er that I know for a fact wine beginners still go through: Unsure of what to order, you make a selection based on price, recommendation and/or by the pretty label, and you share your reasoning as it seems fit to you.

For instance:

Scenario #1: Have you ever ordered the second least expensive wine? You don’t want people to think that you are cheap, nor do you want to drink swill, but you also don’t want to spend a lot of money as you really don’t know (yet) what to choose. You’re not alone. Apparently enough people do that the website did a short video about it. High-larious:

Scenario #2: You assume that your waiter knows more about wine than you do and you go along with their suggestion. While that may work in a nice restaurant that has either employed a sommelier or trained their staff (which includes having the staff taste the restaurant’s wines and trained them on pairings) you may have just ordered a wine based on their technique: price. Now, not all wait staffers do this, some do as the higher your per check bill is the higher their tip. (Of course that would mean that you liked, or pretended to like, the wine they chose for you.)

Scenario #3: The cute little dog/duck/flower/whatever on the label made you snatch it from the top shelf of the market, in what is commonly referred to as an “impulse” buy. You take a photo and share it on social networks, proud of your purchase, but you haven’t tasted the wine yet.

And if you did any of these? This may have been assumed about you by a non wine 101er witnessing your decision:

In Scenario #1: You don’t know enough about wine to make a choice based on anything other than price. While a restaurant has tremendous mark ups in by the bottle and by the glass selections, some wines, say imports from New Zealand, Australia and Chile are sometimes less expensive. So sampling a lesser expensive import, even the least expensive, may be a better way to experiment. And unless you are dining in New Zealand, Australia or Chile, no one judges someone that admits to wanting to try and experiment with something new.

In Scenario #2: You have no choice but to educate yourself, or dine with someone who has been. Years ago I took great pleasure in being asked to select the wine for a large table of people at a television awards show. I selected a tried and true favorite and later, was met with several nods of approval and verbal thanks. There is nothing wrong with turning to your tablemates and asking if any of them are familiar with any of the wines on the wine list, or, if any are comfortable in ordering for the group. (Keep in mind cost may be of some concern, so whoever does do the ordering should be aware of the diner’s budgets.) It is a great compliment to be tasked with ordering for a table – when you are not the waiter/restaurant benefiting in making the choice.

And lastly, in Scenario #3: Marketers know that people impulse buy everything! It applies to wine labels just as much as anything else. It’s their job to get, and keep, your attention. Just stop. Pick up that cute label if you must, but read the back to see more about the varietal and where it was grown. If you have the time use your smartphone to look up scores from critics you follow.

And keep tasting and educating your palate, I can’t say it enough about that. A “self-taught” wino is better than an ignorant one IMO.

The saying, “Life’s too short to drink cheap wine” should also now mean a little bit more to you.

Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years.  She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition.  You can email to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via

4 thoughts on “Wine 101: Do Others Judge You By What Wine You Drink?

  1. Love the video Second Least Expensive wine…lol. I normally do not buy wine by it’s label, usually word of mouth. I just bought the Carr Pinot Noir ($50.00 +12.00 shipping +4.00 tax=66.00) that was chosen for the Academy Awards, saving it for Valentine’s Day.

    1. I know people do this with wine lists, they don’t want to look “too” cheap or inexperienced! And tell me about that Pinot you ordered – after you have a great Valentine’s Day Beverly!

  2. Restaurant owners are on to that trick. Often the second cheapest wine has the highest percentage markup on the whole list, making it the most profitable item for the restaurant and the worst bargain for the customer.

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