Why You Should Think Twice About Ordering House Wine

If you don't really understand the "house wine" list on a restaurant menu, don't feel unsophisticated. The truth is, the term doesn't have a specific definition regarding how to order wine at a restaurant. It means different things at different places, and you can't really know for sure how an establishment decides which wines are featured as house wines. 

As sommelier Jared Hooper — currently wine director at Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant in Forestville, California — explained to Eater, "house wine" is "an intentionally vague category." But there are a couple of general rules to know. According to Hooper, "house wine" can denote anything from a special wine labeled just for the restaurant, to wine the eatery wants to move, like "the last few bottles of a case, or something the restaurant has gotten a deal on." Hooper's assessment is validated by wine expert and hospitality consultant Ashley Ragovin, who told Bon Appétit that while "some restaurants are excited to feature a rare find" as their house wine, others may be "just trying to purge the Sauvignon Blanc the wine buyer over-ordered." 

With such a murky meaning behind "house wine," why is it such a common order for restaurant goers? EverWonderWine explains that house wines are generally "very drinkable [and] very affordable." Though they typically "reflect on the quality of the establishment," house wines may not be worth the extra few bucks they save you on your bill, some experts say.

Here's how to avoid ordering house wine

According to MSN, the list of the worst things you can order at a restaurant includes house wine. The site suggests that while house wines may be the cheaper option, they're not much less expensive than other choices — which may be worth the extra money for their quality. Wine Weekly takes a much harder stance against house wine, telling readers, "Don't EVER order the 'house' wine." That message is directed toward diners in the United States, where, Wine Weekly says, the "definition of 'house wine' is 'the cheapest wine we could get our hands on this week to sell off for a major profit to people who don't know any better.'"

While the quality of house wine varies widely depending on where you're dining, many experts contend that in the end, it's worth paying a little more for a wine you'll like. Worried about getting lost while wandering away from the house wine list? Happily, there's a fake-it-'til-you-make-it approach that can help you avoid simply asking for the cheapest option on the menu. Primer suggests looking for a "safe bet" on the wine list, ordering a varietal you've had before or asking your server to suggest something similar. Or, you can take the more adventurous route and ask about something new that piques your interest. As Primer suggests, "showing interest and asking questions doesn't make you look dumb or uninformed — it makes you look confident, calm, and ready to try new things."