Know these few key things and you'll come across as competent if not v impressive.
  1. START with how much you want to spend and be direct and honest about it. Even if it's $40.
    Good restaurants take pride in having good values on their list, and the sommelier/wine person will be glad you told them regardless of your budget.
  2. THEN decide between red or white.
  3. THEN pick a country
    If you're unsure, play it safe and probably say France or California. Italy will work too but follow up questions may get awkward.
  4. THEN EITHER pick a style: light, medium, full bodied
  5. OR pick a grape/varietal
    California: Pinot Noir = light, Cab = heavy. France: Burgundy = Pinot Noir = light, Bordeaux = heavy.
  7. Ask for input
  8. Never pronounce a "T"
    Just to be safe.
  9. WHAT YOU END UP WITH IS: "Hello, I'm looking for something in the $70 range, red, from California, preferably on the lighter side. Happy to hear your suggestions."
  10. SUPER PRO TIP: Ask for this bottle
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    Olga Raffault Chinon (pronounced "she known"). It's a French wine, and Cabernet Franc is the grape, which means it's awesome but undervalued. Lots of good restaurants carry it and it'll be the best bottle on the menu for $60-80, often at least 5 years old. Even if they don't have it, wine people will be impressed.