Thankfully, the Weekend Journal section of the WSJ had this excellent article entitled "10 Ways to Save Money ordering Wine." Here are some excerpts, along with some commentary of my own:
1. Skip wine by the glass. Restaurateurs like to make enough on a single glass to pay for a whole bottle, which is great for them but not so great for you. And it wouldn't be so bad except that so many wines by the glass are poured from bottles that have been open for too long and mistreated after opening. At a trendy Asian restaurant in Manhattan, we recently ordered a New Zealand Pinot Noir by the glass for $12 that was served so warm it could have been our after-dinner tea.I have had this same experience -- very annoying. But there are exceptions to this rule. When you are dining at a wine bar or other establishment that makes proper storage, temperature-control, etc., a priority, ordering wine by the glass is a smart thing to do.
This rule shouldn't be considered absolute. Enough of us travel or find ourselves in other situations where we are dining alone, and we shouldn't be forced to buy a full bottle of wine that we can't possibly drink by ourselves.
If you order a glass of wine, and it has a musty taste or it is unacceptably warm, politely point this out to your server and send it back. That's one way to send the message.
5. Avoid the Chardonnay tax. Chardonnay is America's favorite wine. Just about everybody loves it and feels comfortable with it, which is why the Chardonnays on so many lists are grossly overpriced compared to other wines.I agree with this, but not simply because of the so-called Chardonnay "tax." I think most American Chardonnays have been strangled with so much oak that the fruit and bouquet are left virtually undetectable. There are other white wines that are underrated much as Chardonnays tend to be overrated (in my humble opinion).
The co-authors of the WSJ article suggest choosing either a Riesling or a Grüner-Veltliner. Those whites are certainly options, but also consider a Sauvignon Blanc or a Viognier. And you should try an up-and-coming white called Albariño (alba-reen-yo), assuming there is one on the wine-by-glass list. This white — popular in Spain and Portugal — has nice fruit and a light to medium body.