Sommeliers take stress, guess work out of selecting wines

NEW YORK Tue May 29, 2012 1:20pm EDT

1 of 4. Lorie O'Sullivan, sommelier for TOCA at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, poses for a portrait at the inside the wine cellar of the TOCA restaurant in Toronto, May 25, 2012. Leading sommeliers around the globe can help to take the guess work out of selecting wines and the sting out of prices. Looking for bargains, comparative shopping, being open minded, and if in doubt, asking for help, they say are just a few tips to relieve the stress of selecting wines in restaurants. Picture taken May 25.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Can't chose between a Muscadet and Merlot? Confused by the latest Cabernets or shocked by the prices?

Leading sommeliers around the globe can help to take the guess work out of selecting wines and the sting out of prices. Looking for bargains, comparative shopping, being open minded, and if in doubt, asking for help, they say are just a few tips to relieve the stress of selecting wines in restaurants.

U.S. master sommelier Doug Frost likes bargains. Frost and other experts look for wines from lesser known regions before they become popular.

"While everybody else was enthusing about super Tuscans or Barossa Valley bombs, we were shopping Spain, southern Italy or Austria," said Frost, who is based in Kansas City, Kansas.

Frost suggests one of best ways to find a bargain is to select wines from countries that are not in fashion - yet. He is now finding good deals in wines from Portugal and Greece.

Lorie O'Sullivan, sommelier for TOCA at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, agreed, and suggested bargains can be found close to home.

"If you love Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon but would prefer something less expensive, then look to Washington State for a very similar style Cabernet for about half the price," she said.

Another tip is selecting a wine from the Bin Ends page of the wine list, where restaurants have their one-off bottles. O'Sullivan also said don't be afraid to tell the sommelier what you are looking for and the price range you are willing to pay.

"Honestly, it's one of my favorite challenges," she explained.

Finding a good wine for an affordable price can actually be more difficult than choosing an expensive vintage.

"It doesn't take any skill to put together a list of $300 wines," said Joseph Burton, one of Australia's top sommeliers. "If you are spending that much and don't get a fantastic bottle, something is very wrong indeed."

Burton, a master sommelier at The Source in Hobart, Tasmania, believes there is a vast difference between a wine that costs $5 and one that has a price tag 10 times higher.

"There is less difference between wines that cost $50 and $500 a bottle and even less again between $500 and $5,000 per bottle."

For Auckland, New Zealand-based master sommelier Cameron Douglas wines on a great wine list are appropriate to the theme and style of the dining room and should complement the dishes they are served with.

And don't forget to drink plenty of water with the meal.

"If you are doing a lot of courses, you need to pace yourself and drinking a glass of water with each course will allow you to enjoy the evening without feeling too full or inebriated," O'Sullivan advised.

(Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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