No need to panic when you're handed a wine list - our 5 step guide to looking like a wine pro
Do you panic just a little bit every time someone hands you a wine list? When you buy a bottle to drink at home, maybe you choose the same kind over and over again (*ahem* 6ft6 Shiraz anyone?) — or perhaps you buy wines based on their labels! (No judgment, we all do it!).
But when you’re out for dinner and the server hands you a fat, leather bound drinks list and then stands there, looking at you expectantly, like you’re somehow going to magically know what you like based on a name and a price – it can be more than a little bit intimidating…
That’s where we come in.
Introducing 6ft6’s 5-step guide to ordering wine at a restaurant without looking like an idiot.
Step 1 Reconnaissance
Figure out what kind of night your dining companions are up for. Are you swilling by the bottle or by the glass? Sharing or going it alone? If you are sharing – what does everyone prefer? Red/White? Light/Heavy? Any varietals that are a no-go?
If you feel like this might take awhile, maybe order an aperitif to get the night rolling – choose something dry to cleanse your palette – a Champagne or Gin & Tonic is ideal.
Step 2 The food factor
Think about what you’re going to be eating and choose your wine accordingly. But keep in mind – food and wine pairing has no hard and fast rules – don’t discount a wine you love just because you think it might not “go” with your food.
Some guidelines to keep in mind – thinking about the “weight” of your meal and try to match it with a wine of similar weight; if you’re ordering a spicy dish – choose a sweeter wine to balance and contrast; more acidic wines balance creamy dishes; and heavy tannic wines are a perfect accompaniment to fatty foods.
Step 3 Don’t be shy
One of the biggest mistakes people make when going to fancy restaurants is not fully utilising their sommelier. They’re not going to make fun of you and they definitely don’t expect you to be a wine-ordering expert (in fact, they kind of prefer it when you’re not, that’s the fun part of their job).
Tell them what you like and what you don’t like – ask for a recommendation to go with a particular dish. After all, they have taken quite a lot of time constructing that fat list, and they assembled it with the type of food they serve in mind. They’ll also be able to tell you about the wine’s history and personality. And if you’re into trying an unusual wine, they may be able to steer you in the direction of a unique gem that could make your dining experience all the more exciting.
Step 4 Subtly indicate how much of a cheapskate you are
Don’t just automatically order the second cheapest wine on the menu – restaurateurs caught onto this trend years ago and started marking up the wines they want to get rid of accordingly – there is a better way.
With the server or sommelier by your side, simply point to the list at a price you can afford. You can say something like, “I’m interested in a medium bodied red in this range, what would you recommend to go with the eye fillet?” A professional will get the message.
Step 5 Sniff & Sip
I know, I know – you totally cringe at the thought of having to taste the wine when it’s offered to you in the restaurant. Maybe you think it’s a big wank, and to actually go through with the ritual makes you look like a total snob. But unfortunately – if you ordered the wine, this is your job.
Remember this – you are not being offered the wine to see if you like it. So don’t say something like, “oh no, I’m sure it’s lovely,” you’re tasting it to make sure it hasn’t gone off. In the age of screw caps, this is much less likely than it used to be, so give it a sniff and a sip – if it tastes or smells like wet cardboard or rotten eggs – send it back, if not, give the pourer a smile and a nod, sit back and enjoy.