Maître D' Michael Cecchi-Azzolina's Foolproof Tips For Ordering Wine - Exclusive

Want to hear a joke? A person walks into a bar and orders a good bottle of wine. That's it. That's the joke. Get it? In a world where wine lists often are as deep as the rabbit hole that Alice fell down, you practically need to be a sommelier to order a bottle of decent wine at a restaurant. Even longtime New York City maître d' Michael Cecchi-Azzolina admits he still has trouble recognizing wines from other restaurants' menus. "I know a lot about wine, but I guarantee you, of all the restaurants I go to, I'm not going to know three-quarters of the wine list," Cecchi-Azzolina told Tasting Table in a recent exclusive interview. "I've not drunk those bottles."

Cecchi-Azzolina isn't kidding when he says he knows wines. He's been at this for more than 35 years, waiting tables and maître d'ing in NYC's hottest restaurants, including La Rousse, The Water Club, The River Cafe, Raoul's, and Le Coucou. In other words, it's okay to feel a little bit out of your league when selecting a glass of red, white, or — could it be? — maybe even a rosé. Cecchi-Azzolina might not be as lost as you are, but that's because he's got a few tricks up his sleeves. 

The question that will give you the best bottle of wine you can afford when dining out

Already know what kind of wine you're looking for? There's an easy way to make sure you get just that, Michael Cecchi-Azzolina told Tasting Table: ask.

"The best way to do it, if there's a sommelier or a server or someone that knows what they're doing, [is to] say, 'I want to spend $80 tonight with a bottle of wine. Give me your best bottle. I want a 'medium-bodied red' or 'a full-bodied red,' or 'This is what I'm eating and this is my price point. Please provide me with that,'" he said.

If, on the other hand, you're not confident in what you want, ask your waitstaff another question. "I'll ask the sommelier. I'll give them my price range: 'I'll spend between $80 and $120. Pick what [we'll] drink tonight.' I'll put it in their hands," Cecchi-Azzolina revealed. "I always rely on the expertise of the person there and give them my price point."

As for what you should be paying for a bottle of wine — that depends on where in the world you order it. In New York City, however, Cecchi-Azzolina says that between $90 to $120 will get you a decent bottle. Don't buy into upsells. "They might come back to you and say, 'Well, you want to spend $80, but I've got this one for $120,' in which case I'm skeptical already because if you're trying to up the sale to me, I don't want to be pushed," he reflected. "I don't want to be led to a place where I don't want to go."

Michael Cecchi-Azzolina's book, "Your Table Is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D'," is available for purchase from Macmillan.