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My friend’s go-to strategy for ordering wine at a restaurant is to always select the second-cheapest bottle. Have you heard of this practice?

Heard of it? You bet. This is one of the great myths of restaurant wine buying. I’ve heard about it in the same way that I’ve heard about alligators living in the sewers in New York.

The “insider tip” to order the second-cheapest bottle is a “life hack” proposed for people who enjoy wine yet somehow don’t feel they appreciate it enough to splurge on something expensive.

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I understand that the notion stems from wishing to be financially prudent, but not look totally cheap. I’m just not sure how this practice has grown to be seen as some sort of hidden gem for value shoppers.

Who’s to say they’re going to love that inexpensive but not totally cheap wine option? What if it’s a riesling and you’re not a fan? Or, a merlot and you’d rather storm out of the restaurant than sip on merlot? Wouldn’t you rather order something you’d actually enjoy?

Price is certainly a major motivating factor to influence wine purchases whether it’s at a bar, restaurant or liquor store. Sadly, wine is one of the most marked up items at a restaurant, which makes finding impressive selections amongst the cheapest offerings even more challenging.

Canadian wine lovers are not immune to seeing $15 wines proposed on a restaurant wine list for $50 or more. It’s common to see inexpensive wines marketed at double or triple their retail cost. More expensive bottles meanwhile might only face a 100-per-cent increase. Those profits often help fund restaurant decor, glassware and wine storage. They possibly are used to subsidize food costs.

The popularity of ordering the second cheapest red or white has led some unscrupulous restaurateurs to over-inflate the mark-up on the bottle in that position to maximize profits or sell off an unpopular wine that they are looking to move. In this case, you risk ordering the worst value selection possible.

Restaurants with savvy sommeliers and solid wine programs want their guests to enjoy their wine. They often factor in a range of prices, styles and familiarity when setting their wine lists. There’s typically something for every budget on offer. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the wines or producers, the only real short cut to understanding the value of what’s on hand is to ask for advice.

Plenty of people look for a favourite variety (pick the riesling!) or ask the waitstaff for suggestions.

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E-mail your wine and spirits questions to The Globe. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Good Taste newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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