Those wine lists at restaurants can be confusing. Here’s how to cut through the clutter and choose a great wine.
Before you place your order, there are several issues that must be resolved. You must determine how much you would like to spend, what wine will pair well with the meal you have ordered, and what to do when the wine is brought to the table. It’s okay to ask the table who drinks white and who prefers red; if the table is split, order one of each and just watch to see how the consumption goes throughout the meal. One bottle typically yields four glasses so you can gauge how many bottles of each you’ll need to make sure everyone receives at least one glass.
Check the wine list online
Most restaurants have their wine lists online. It is worth having a look in advance if you are the host and won’t have time to read the list while chatting with your guests. Check with the restaurant if this is up to date on the website when making your reservation.
If there is a Sommelier, take advantage
Some restaurants have a wine waiter on hand to advise on the wines. Don’t hesitate to ask them for suggestions. In a number of cases the Sommelier will have put the wine list together themselves, or at the very least tasted the majority of wines available on the list, so they can be good to talk to.
Remember Sommeliers are there to choose wine to:
- Fit your budget
- Suit your taste
- Partner your food
If asking the sommelier for help, be prepared to answer the following questions:
- What kind and style of wine do you like?
- What types of food will you be eating?
- Are you open to trying new wines?; and
- How much do you want to drink?
Don’t be intimidated
Ask questions. One of my many pet peeves is the generally pathetic approach most restaurants take to wine lists. An acceptable wine list should clearly indicate the vintage, the name, possibly the grape variety and the price.
Order by the glass to experiment
Order something you don’t know. Opposite of first recommendation: welcome to wine. However, a bottle usually is a much better deal.
Check your phone if you are really unsure.There are lots of apps out there to help you make the decision on what wine to pick with your dinner. Remember price does not equal value.
What to look for
Choose a wine to cater to your guest’s likes and dislikes, but be flexible with food pairings. Some people may enjoy red while others white. One person is having fish, and the other pork? Don’t be afraid to experiment with food pairings.
- Observe the label and be sure that it is the bottle and vintage that you ordered.
- Observe the cork (the server should place it next to your place setting) to be sure there is no mold, that it is not too dry and that it has consistent color.
- What color is it? Look beyond red, white or blush.
- Is the wine being served at the right temperature? Most red wines will actually perform better slightly cooled.
- Let your wine breathe. Once your wine is at the correct temperature, give your bottle a chance to breathe before serving. Allowing your wine to breathe oxidizes the wine, bringing out the potential of the flavour. Let it sit in the glass.
- Smell. Our sense of smell is critical in properly analyzing a glass of wine. To get a good impression of your wine’s aroma, swirl your glass for a solid 10-12 seconds (this helps vaporize some of the wine’s alcohol and release more of its natural aromas) and then take a quick whiff to gain a first impression.
- Keep Smelling. Now stick your nose down into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose. What are your second impressions? Do you smell oak, berry, flowers, vanilla or citrus? A wine’s aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics.
- Finally, take a taste. Start with a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. There are three stages of taste: the Attack phase, the Evolution phase and the Finish.
Do not go by brand!
Do not simply choose a wine by brand, you will end up with either something you have drunk a thousand times before or something by a big, mass produced winery. Choose by other factors that interest you such as country, grape variety or vintage.
When you find a bottle that everyone has enjoyed, text the label to yourself so you’ll have the name in mind the next time you’re volunteered to do the wine picking.
A votre santé–and success.