Being handed the wine list at a restaurant can be a daunting prospect, even for the most seasoned of fine wine experts. Even if you think you have a pretty good grasp of the world’s more sophisticated wines, being expected to pick something absolutely top drawer and to everyone’s taste can be a lot easier said than done.
There are a number of situations when getting this absolutely right is crucial. You could be entertaining a potentially lucrative business prospect or maybe meeting your future spouse’s parents for the first time; these are the times when picking the perfect wine just might make all the difference.
When looking to order from a restaurant wine list like a pro, you can of course ask the sommelier as he or she will no doubt have devised the very wine list you are trying to negotiate, but they will be unlikely to know your taste and that of your guests.
So, we have compiled these quick and easy tips to help even wine novices to pick wine that is guaranteed to hit the spot and leave you getting kudos at the vital time, no matter what company you are in.
A lot of the time, picking the best bottle from a wine list isn’t all about knowing the history behind a grape or perhaps the vineyard it has emanated from but pairing with cuisine. There is an old adage in the wine industry that goes “what grows together, goes together” and it couldn’t be truer a lot of the time.
For example, a rich Italian dish tends to go with something like a Chianti and a garlic based French meal could well be complemented perfectly by a chilled Chablis. So think about the restaurant you are in or the food you are about to eat and pick something that is really going pull these flavours together, this should leave your peers suitably impressed.
A common misconception these days, is that to order from a restaurant wine list like a professional one needs to be ordering bottles. This obviously depends completely on the event but if you have a sommelier at your disposal, they may well be able to help you order some great wines by the glass.
Not only do you get more variation this way and are able to sample more of the wine list, but pairing with certain foods becomes a lot easier. You can then decide upon a wine that you like as a table and ensure that everyone is drinking a wine they love.
If you are perusing the wine list but struggling to work out what a certain bottle is going to taste like and therefore, if it is suitable, think about the climate. If a wine has been produced in a cooler region, then the chances are that it will be crisper and more refreshing. Conversely, wines from warmer parts of the world will probably be richer and perhaps smoother.
There are of course exceptions to any rule, but this can be an excellent rule of thumb to use if you are looking to come across as a wine professional but struggling somewhat with a complex list. Again, your sommelier can guide you here but using the above methodology will definitely guide you in the right direction.
Finally, the most crucial part of ordering any wine like an aficionado is the taste test. However, don’t make the rookie error of thinking that the purpose of this is to see if you like the wine. In high calibre restaurants or wine bars, the sommelier will presume that you will like a grape that you have ordered and are about to spend significant money on; the point of this is to check the vintage.
You are also checking that the wine, which will most likely have been stored professionally for several years, hasn’t been spoiled. Cork taint, intense acidity and yeast damage (Brettanomyces) are all things to look out for and are more popular with wines that have been left to rest for longer periods of time. As long as none of these issues are present, then your fine wine will no doubt be excellent and leave you and your guests quite content indeed.
These tips along with some of the great resources we have here at the Octavian Vaults blog should see you ordering wine like a professional in no time. Follow these, and don’t be afraid to lean on your sommelier and you seem like even the most seasoned of wine connoisseurs.