Dining out is a source of joy to many and the level of pleasure can be heightened by choosing the right wine or wines that match the dishes ordered. Yet the process of selecting the right wine can be intimidating. Wine lists are often quite foreign and the prices can seem inhospitable.
One way to start is to decide whether or not you want to match the food to the wine or the wine to the food. Most diners will choose their food first and then select a beverage to help wash it down. Since some wines can be dramatically more expensive than the main courses. When splurging on such a wine, it seems wise to reverse that tactic and find dishes to complement the wine. If your wine is going to be NIS 200 to NIS 400 per bottle, then why not find the NIS 80 to NIS 150 dishes to complement it instead of the other way around?
If dining alone, then ordering a glass or two of wine for NIS 30 - NIS 50 might be wise, since not everyone is capable of or willing to polish off a whole bottle. Wine lists often offer wines by the glass at even lower prices and since these wines are usually already opened it is worth asking to taste before ordering a glass for yourself or a bottle for the table. All they can say is no, and more often than not they would rather see you happy than deal with your not enjoying a full glass or bottle.
Some restaurants will even offer flights of wines where you can get three or four smaller pours of themed wines and taste them side by side. This is a fun way to explore wines and choose a bottle for the table.
On the more expensive end, you can expect to find at fancier establishments, older vintage wines that might be even 10 to 20 years old and can easily be 5 to 10 times the price of other wines on the list. The restaurant may have been storing it all these years, or may have bought it from a broker. The best value for money wines tend to be the wines which are a little pricier than the by the glass wines, and less expensive than the older vintage wines.
Thinking of your price limit helps. Asking the sommelier what kind of wines you are looking for which they suggest are "like this" and pointing to the price on the menu so the staff sees what you are alluding to without your notifying your guests that you have a price limit to how much you are willing to spend. An astute server will then come up with suggestions that match your budget and selected dishes.
If the meal is premeditated, don't be shy about calling ahead and asking the staff over the phone to email you a copy of the wine list. Then you can check out online some of the reviews and tasting notes of the wines. It's also a good opportunity to see how much the restaurant is marking up their bottles. With a list on hand, you might decide to bring your own bottle and pay a corkage fee of NIS 30 - 50. The custom is to call and see if the bottle is on the list, so already having the list can put you a step ahead, and if it's a bottle you like, then maybe you don't want to experiment at the inflated prices some restaurants insist on. This might save you NIS 100 - 200 or more per bottle you might have ordered otherwise. Since, the price of a wine on a list is often two to three times the price the restaurant paid, the more expensive the wine, the better the deal is to bring your own bottle and pay the corkage fee.
Since people often want more than one course during a meal out, choosing two or more wines seems prudent, since one wine might not match well with all the dishes. One reliable method is to choose a lighter wine first and a heavier wine to follow. This is how most meals progress anyway.
Bolder red wines like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah would also typically be more expressive half an hour or an hour after being poured into a decanter resting on the table. But who wants to wait that long for a first glass of wine? So having a lighter white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc, which doesn't require decanting, to start the meal seems sensible, and a lighter crisp acidic white wine will often better match first courses like salads or soups.
If you want to roll like a pro, have them start decanting a red wine before you even arrive. Expect that they might want a credit card before opening their most expensive bottle.
If you want only one wine for the table, a good compromise is a heavier white like a Chardonnay or Viognier or a lighter red like a Pinot Noir or a Grenache. Sparkling wines are also a good match to complement a selection of courses with their typical acidity from earlier harvesting and a feeling of weight from carbonation.
Remember, someone at the restaurant either designed the wine list or should be sufficiently familiar with it to provide suggestions. Whether the restaurant has a dedicated sommelier or the waiters are well trained, someone should be able to tell you which wines go well with which dishes. Sadly, some wine lists are slapped together without much thought of pairing which wines with what dishes, but a well-crafted list will have wines that are versatile and match several dishes, and each wine on the list should serve a purpose. At better restaurants, the staff typically gets to try most of the wines, so don't be shy to ask your servers which wine they like best and why. But beware, since often the distributors have promotions which are helping to steer the staff's suggestions, so if they can't sell you on "why", then maybe it's worth trying something else.
Last but not least, a dessert wine is a nice way to finish a meal. Dessert wines can be 10 to 50 times as sweet (and even more) than a dry dinner wine and are designed to be served on their own or as an accompaniment to whatever sugary selection you decide to end your evening with. Servings are typically smaller for these intense wines and unless you have several people, you probably want to get individual glasses. Dessert wines are also a great match for cheese plates, which are a common option in continental dining. The right dessert wine is like serving honey or jam with the cheese; yet expect a good dessert wine to be a lot more complicated and expressive.