How to Order Wine Like an Expert
Ali Zweben, along with her sister Daryl, make up the foodie blog, The Sisterhood of the Unbuttoning Pants. They represent the proud over-stuffed and over-served, and are the go-to hip NYC chicks for all things food related. They know that being stylish and loving food are not mutually exclusive, and invite everyone to undo a button.
Selecting a wine at a restaurant—especially in a group setting—can seem like a high-pressure purchase. But in reality, it’s no different from any other shopping expedition. These five simple steps will give you confidence to make a great wine selection.
1. Look For Clues In the Wine List
A wine list may present a seemingly never-ending array of options. Similar to clothes on hangers, wines on a list can be organized in several different ways that can help you make your choice. Lists can be organized by region or varietal, and also by flavor profile (oaky whites, well-rounded reds). Use these cues in the list to help narrow down your selection.
2. Take Stock Of Your Tastes
Obviously, you want to order a wine that will taste good to you! Think about what flavors you enjoy and the words that describe them—this will help you to learn what kinds of wines you like to drink, as will knowing basic flavor characteristics of certain grapes or regions. Have zero clue what is what? Google the flavor you like on your phone under the table or in the bathroom and “wines” (example: “oaky white wines”). This should steer you at least toward the right type of wine to choose. By the way, descriptors can be simple, just don’t get caught up trying to mimic pretentious wine-speak. Adjectives like crisp, citrusy, fruity, soft, oaky, and strong will do.
3. Think About What You Are Eating
You wouldn’t wear a ball gown to a brunch party, and there are some wines that just don’t suit every occasion. When ordering a bottle for the table, it helps to take into account what everyone is going to be eating. There are some rules that are classic, like white wine goes with fish and red wine is good with red meat. They’re not hard and fast, but it’s a good start if you’re unsure.
4. Pick a Budget (And Stick To It)
Not fun, but every shopper knows that some times the price tag must dictate the purchase. There’s no shame in narrowing down your choices by the right side of the list. It’s important to note that there are quality wines at every level, so don’t let anyone tell you differently. Also, think about how many bottles you may be ordering. Planning to sit and sip for a while? Maybe it’s best to save the pricey wine for another occasion.
5. When In Doubt, Consult the Experts
Sommeliers are there to help. While they may try to up-sell you, a good sommelier will have a passion and knowledge of wine that they are excited to share. When consulting with one, be sure to communicate your budget (even if you have to point), as well as the flavors you love.
Once you get to know more about the specific regions that you favor, you can start to get really fancy and know the superior years for that wine. For example, 2010 was a fabulous year for Rhone wines. In a great vintage, almost all wines from that region will be good, allowing some lesser-known vineyards to offer some outstanding bang for the buck.
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