Some meals require more than beer, but wine lists are overwhelming. Before you panic and order the most expensive bottle on the list, check out our quick guide for buying a good bottle every time. Whether you’re on a first date, out for couples night or just eating with a group of friends, if a good meal is in order, so is a bottle of wine. However, wine lists can be intimidating. Here are five tips for getting a great bottle of wine every time.
Learn Three Wine Words
Your sommelier or waiter can quickly help you pick wine if you know two or three adjectives that describe what tastes you like – or what you don’t like. If you like whites, you might like the taste of fruit but don’t like oak, for example. If you like red wine, you might like the taste of spice, berries or tobacco but don’t like plum or licorice. Taste some wine and arm yourself with two or three wine words.
Pick a Price Range
Here’s what sommeliers know that you don’t: The most expensive wine on the menu is probably not the best. You don’t need to feel bad about ordering an inexpensive or mid-range bottle. If you want to be discreet about your budget, just point to two or three on the menu in that price range, and the sommelier will immediately get the hint and recommend wine in that same range.
Skim a Vintage Guide Online
Once a year, take a look online at a “vintage guide”, such as Robert Parker’s. This guide will tell you what years have been “good” for wine and what years haven’t. Find two or three years that have above average ratings overall and look for those years on the menu. Also note if there was a universally bad year (like 2010) and avoid those wines.
Taste Like a Pro
The waiter will bring your wine and show you the bottle. Check that it’s the bottle you ordered. Then he or she will pour you a little taste (note it’s no longer in fashion to smell the cork because the smell of the cork can tell you little about the wine). Give your glass a swirl and take a taste. If it smells or tastes bad, don’t hesitate to ask for something else. You won’t be charged for the bottle. It’s estimated that 5% of wine in restaurants has gone bad (or “corked”) in transit or storage, so restaurants expect to replace about that many bottles at the table.
Trust the Sommelier
The best, and most enjoyable, way to approach a wine list is to trust the waiter or sommelier. Take comfort in the fact that nobody but that restaurant’s sommelier knows everything about the wines on the list, so there’s no need to feel remedial. It’s normal, expected, and even enjoyable to ask questions of the waiter or sommelier. If you give them your two or three wine words, tell them what you’re having for dinner and allude to a price range, you’ll likely build on your wine knowledge and enjoy a better bottle than you would have blindly choosing yourself.