No-one likes to look like a total novice when choosing a wine in a decent restaurant. A book could probably be written on the subject (and I’m sure there is); but at least for now, I’ve put together just a few quick tips to help you avoid embarrassment the next time you’re “somewhere nice”, and faced with choosing a bottle..
1. Have a Plan.
Oh, what a crazy technological age we live in!
Most restaurants are now posting their wine list on their website, with the ones that don’t usually being arrogant enough to think that others are going to “steal their ideas”. But don’t worry about them! They’re normally high-end steak houses, which are bereft of inspirational and off-the-beaten-path wine selections anyway! I digress…
Give the restaurants’ online wine list at least a quick glance over before you arrive, choosing a couple of different options based on what you think you may to compliment your meal. If you want to get really crazy about it, you could even look up the correct pronunciation of your selection!
2. Have a Budget.
There is no problem with having a budget, so don’t worry, you won’t look like a tightwad! Well, as long as you’re not fine-dining, and your budget is under $25 a bottle!
First of all; take a look at the wine list, and see what the average prices look like, and then go from there. You should approach the issue of budget with something like;
“I’m looking for a California Cab or blend, something in the $40-$50 range, and maybe a wine that I haven’t tasted before.”
With a statement like this, you’ve at least partially shifted the focus from price, and have set the Server / Sommelier a challenge to find you a new wine.
DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT when asked by the Server/Sommelier as to the type of wine you enjoy, regurgitate a list of every expensive wine that you know, such as;
“I usually ONLY drink Caymus, Quintessa, Silver Oak or Insignia, so I am looking for something similar to that……oh…..and my budget is $30..”.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There is no shame in asking for help with a wine list, in fact most Sommeliers love adventurous guests! Let them know about the wines that you’ve enjoyed before, whether it be by brand name (i.e. Kendall Jackson Chard, Robert Mondavi Cab), or grape type (i.e. French Chardonnay, Oregon Pinot). If the Sommelier is worth anything to the restaurant, they’ll be more than happy to oblige in finding something to fit your needs. If he or she isn’t, well I guess you won’t be going back to that restaurant!
4. Get specific.
Don’t just ask for a “nice bottle of white”, make sure you have at least a few flavor descriptors in your head before you open your mouth. Something like;
“I’m looking for a Chardonnay. I’m not a big fan of oaky, but buttery is fine. We’ve ordered oysters for an appetizer, what do you think would pair best?”
Also, try to avoid asking the Server / Sommelier what they personally like. It’s not that big of a deal; but always remember that they aren’t the ones drinking the wine, you are! Who knows, they could reeeeeeally like Boone’s Farm! Then where would you be!?!?
5. Don’t be a Cork Sniffer!
Once the wine arrives, please remember that sniffing the cork won’t tell you any more about the wine, than the actual taste / smell of the wine itself. So, when the Server presents the cork on the table, just leave it right where it! The only exception to this rule is if there are loud and obnoxious children sitting at the table next to you. Then it’s ok to throw it at them when no-one is looking; but only when no-one is looking!
When approached to taste the wine, swirling white or red in the glass is totally appropriate, but 2-3 seconds and nothing more. Remember; you’re trying to “open the wine up” by exposing it to more oxygen. Not trying to turn it into a frothy-foamy mess, and risk spilling it all over yourself.
7. Sending a Wine Back.
This is a tricky one. You should never send a wine back just because you don’t like it, at least in my opinion (but some Somm’s will disagree). You should only EVER send it back if the wine is genuinely bad. The one only exception to this rule is if you’ve let the Server / Sommelier choose the wine, and after telling them that you want something along the lines of a sweet German Riesling, they bring you something like a dry Australian Riesling etc.