How do you feel when you’re handed the wine list at a restaurant? If you’re like most people, you feel uncomfortable. You’ve got this huge listing of largely unrecognizable things in front of you and you’re supposed to make some sort of snap judgment that could cost you real money — and embarrass you with your dining companions, too.

But even if you’re no expert, there are easy ways to decipher a list. And there’s good reason to try: A memorable wine can make a meal more romantic, a bigger business success and just more fun. Check out the index accompanying this column; aren’t experiences like those worth just a little bit of extra effort? And it’s not so hard, no matter how big the wine list. Just follow these seven simple steps:

1. Take your time. A few seconds after handing you the biggest wine list in the world, the waiter will come over and say, “Have you made your selection?” or “Do you need help?” Just look up, smile and say, “You have such an interesting list. It’ll take me a few minutes to decide.” At this point, the waiter will think you know what you’re doing and will leave you alone.

2. Decide if you want red or white. If you’re with a date or business colleagues, just ask: “Hey, do you like red or white?” If it’s lunch, the answer will almost always be white. The rest of the time, the answer will usually be, “Whatever you think.” So if it’s lunch, go with white. Otherwise, think about what kind of restaurant you’re in. Maybe ask to look at the menu. Fish restaurant? White. Steak joint? Red. This single decision cuts the wine list in half.

3. Does the restaurant specialize in a certain type of wine? If there are 20 Italian wines listed and five U.S. wines, the owner cares more about Italian wine. Go with it.

4. Eliminate the showcase wines. Many restaurants that have huge lists specialize in expensive French “first growth” wines, like Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Are you going to order those wines? Of course not. Mentally, cross them off.

5. Now, among what’s left, look for wines you already know — and cross them off, too. Hey, if you can buy the same wine from the corner wine store for half the price, it’s not going to be much fun drinking it at a restaurant, is it? Look for something new.

6. Decide what you are willing to spend. Maybe you had planned to spend $25, but there’s just about nothing on the list at $25. Think about $35. Whatever the price — and be flexible; c’mon, you’re eating out — decide what you’re willing to spend and mentally strike out everything else.

7. You’ve decided red or white, focused on what the restaurant specializes in, eliminated the showcase wines, crossed off wines you already know and decided what you can spend. How many wines could possibly be left? Just a handful, we’d guess. So pick two or three. At this point, say to the waiter, “I can’t decide among these wines” — and, wait, the next sentence is the key. Do not say, “What would you recommend?” Sad to say, in many cases, the waiter really doesn’t have a clue and will simply choose one. Instead, say, “What can you tell me about them?” This may flummox the waiter — who will then send over someone who actually knows something about wine. Ignore what he says. Instead, watch his eyes and his body language. You’ll know which wine he is most excited about.

Order it. And don’t worry about it. If it’s not terrific, it’s still something new and different. And if it’s special, well, maybe something like this will happen to you:

There is a famous steak restaurant in Tampa, Fla., called Bern’s, with a wine list the size of the Manhattan white pages. We looked for wines we had never had, and one caught our eye: something called Wine by Wheeler from Nicasio Vineyards in California, vintage 1961. We found this old vineyard earlier in one of our ancient wine books, and it was such a moving story — about how a young couple, Dan and Bette Wheeler, had a dream about making wine, how they built the winery with their bare hands, how it was a labor of love.

But when the wine arrived at our table, there was something unusual. The charming label said: “Work is the ruin of the drinking classes.” There was a hand-written signature of Dan Wheeler and, in his handwriting: “1961 Vintage.”

But there, just above that, where it had said, “Produced and bottled at Nicasio Vineyards, Soquel, Calif., by Bette and Dan Wheeler,” someone, with the same pen, had crossed out “Bette and.”

We asked to see Bern Laxer, who owned the place then. “Damnedest thing,” he said. “One day, Dan Wheeler came in here, said he’d gotten a divorce and demanded to see every wine of his in the cellar. And he stood there and crossed off his wife’s name on every bottle.”

We don’t know if Bern was pulling our leg — we tried without success to reach Mr. Wheeler for this column. But, while we have had better wines than the 1961 Wine by Wheeler, this is the only label that we have framed and hanging on our wall.

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