Once you've gotten the wine list and have reviewed it so you know its organization, how do you actually order the right wine? Perhaps the real question is how to order a decent wine without paying too much and without looking ignorant? There's a lot of pressure on you if people are looking to you to pick a wine, but it's not too difficult to make a relaxed, informed decision from a restaurant wine list — or at least appear to being do so, and isn't that what counts?
Know Your Wines and Your Meal
If you're ordering wine in a restaurant, there's really no substitute now for some basic knowledge about wines. You don't need to be a wine expert, but you really need to know the difference between red and white wines, what Chardonnays and Merlots taste like, and so forth. If you don't know any of this basic wine information, you should probably hand the wine list to someone else or, if they already have a copy, just look at the list intelligently and go along with whatever others recommend.
It's also important to have some idea what you'll be eating with your wine. This is part of understanding wine basics: don't pick a Chardonnay if you intend to order steak; don't pick a Burgundy if you intend to order fish. If you have no idea what you intend to order for your meal, you should either narrow the wine list to a couple of top contenders and use whatever goes best with your eventual meal choice, or put down the wine list and pick a dinner first. Alternatively, you could pick a good wine first and then choose your meal based on what goes with your wine, but not many people are quite that much into wines.
Solicit Suggestions from Others at the Table
If you are ordering wine just for yourself, don't be afraid to ask others for their suggestions about what you should get. It may be that someone else at the table has had some of the wines that appear on the wine list and can tell you if it is especially well-suited to your meal plans or not. Even better would be if they can provide some specific descriptions about the flavors of the wine when the wine list doesn't.
If you have plans on sharing wine, you should definitely ask for input from others: what they plan on eating, what sorts of wines they prefer or dislike, and so forth. Hopefully they already have their own wine lists so you can all make a joint decision on one or perhaps two wines you can all share. Even if you happen to know a great deal more than the others about wines, you should make them a part of the decision-making process by asking about their flavor preferences.
Choosing wine isn't simply about knowing a lot of wine facts, but about enjoying the flavors and aromas of wine and that's something anyone can do.
Ask for Wine Advice, But Don't Be Pressured
Even if you are fairly knowledgeable about wines generally, you can't be expected to be an expert on the wines in any particular restaurant. So no matter how knowledgeable you are, you should consider asking for some advice from people who work for the restaurant and who should have more knowledge about their wines than you do. You'll probably be able to make an informed guess about the wine knowledge of people who work there by paying attention to the quality of the wine list itself.
If you're really lucky the restaurant has a sommelier you can ask for more information. If not, perhaps your waiter knows, but many just don’t have time to learn everything about the wines the restaurant is selling. In that case, you're on your own. Regardless of the situation, though, don't let a waiter or even a sommelier pressure you into buying a wine you're not comfortable with. Allow them to provide advice that helps guide your choice, but don't settle on a wine just because they are impatient or try to up-sell you something more expensive than you were prepared to get.
Order Wine by the Price
If you can at least settle on a type of wine (red or white) and perhaps a varietal (Riesling or Burgundy) but can't choose which particular wine to order, there is one trick which many people have used to reliably get a decent wine without over-paying more than necessary: pick the wine based on where it falls in price relative to the other wines. It's not a guarantee, but in the absence of any other means for making an informed choice, this is better than flipping a coin.
You shouldn't order the cheapest couple of wines because they are probably the lowest quality and really aren't worth the prices being charged. The most expensive wines on the list are, well, much too expensive. Their quality might be good, but they probably aren't worth what is being charged. The wines in the middle should combine decent quality with decent (relatively speaking) prices. Go for the cheaper end (3rd or 4th cheapest) if price is significant concern or couple of levels higher if you are comfortable with those prices.