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Buying wine in a restaurant can be scary.

Many people, when faced with the wine list or the imposing sommelier standing there waiting for the first pronunciation mistake, feel the pressure. Beads of perspiration break out. Neck hairs stand up.

<CW-26>We all spend a good deal of time looking over the menu to decide what to order. That choice is easy. If you don't like kimchi, don't order it. But a glance at the wine list to many is a daunting experience.

</CW><CW-26>At times like these, most of us wish we had 10 extra minutes and a private place to look through the pocket wine guide or glance at the Internet. Instead, most folks hastily pick a wine and pray it will be OK.

</CW>My wine buying strategies for restaurants are fairly complex, and include the following basic rules:

<BL@199,12,11,10>Never buy the cheapest wine on the list. It's usually there to appeal to people for whom price is everything, and the wine will not be a very good value.

</BL><BL@199,12,11,10>Ne<CW-26>ver buy the most expensive wine on the list. It's usually there only for business clients who are on an expense account and who don't care they are getting ripped off since it's the boss' money they're paying with.

</CW></BL><BL@199,12,11,10>Never buy a wine solely on its brand name.

</BL><BL@199,12,11,10>Pay attention to the vintage. Occasionally what is brought is from a year that doesn't jibe with the wine list.

</BL><BL@199,12,11,10>Always look at the non-traditional categories for the best values. (Try Albari? as an alternative to chardonnay, or Argentina malbec instead of merlot.)

Even so, general rules aside, many people still fall into traps when it comes to ordering, so a few additional ideas:

<CW-34>It's always a good idea to ask the sommelier or server for a suggestion. This does two things. First, it gives you an opinion you may use for guidance. And it allows you to have a talking point if the wine suggested turns out to be bad. It also tells you something about the competence of the server.

</CW>If a wine turns out to be less than satisfying and it was the server's suggestion, most quality restaurants will take it back and allow you to order another.

<CW-38>On numerous occasions over the years, I have ordered a wine only to realize when it was brought to the table that it was the wrong wine. Sometimes it's merely the vintage that's wrong, but occasionally it's the brand. Pay careful attention when the server brings you the bottle to approve before uncorking.

</CW>Also, don't fall for bait-and-switch tactics. Occasionally the wine suggested is a lot pricier than the one you ordered.

If you order a wine that's out of stock, many restaurants — especially quality ones — will offer you the next best wine in the category at the same price.

<CW-28>Finally, remember the old saying about the customer always being right, but don't be belligerent. Be assertive when you are in the right, but be reasonable if an honest mistake has been made. For example, if you accept the wine the waiter shows you and then later find out, after it's open, that you got the wrong wine, remember it was your choice to accept or decline the wine before the cork was pulled.

</CW>Restaurateurs want you to have an enjoyable time, and the wrong wine with their food does them no service, and leaves you feeling a victim. Communication from the start is always a good policy, and often it can pay big dividends.

<CF103>Wine of the Week: </CF>2<CW-44>010 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($22) — this house has a stellar record with this grape that it grows in its vineyards in Pope Valley, just east of central Napa Valley. The aroma is striking with gooseberry, pear, stone fruit, and dramatic spices. Terrific stuff, perfectly balanced and food friendly.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.