Perhaps you’ve been in this situation before: You’ve been put in charge of picking wine for your date or even more stressful: at a business dinner. How do you order from the wine list and not look like an idiot?
The goal is simple, learn how to order wine that not only pleases your dining partner but works great with the food. Also, avoid embarrassing moments during “The Wine Presentation” by knowing what’s expected of you. Learn how to order wine like a sommelier.
How to Order Wine Like a Sommelier
Assess The Scene
Imagine you’re seated in a steakhouse at a somewhat rigid business dinner. The low-lighting and dark mahogany exudes class and serious business dealings. Is this the place for a lightly frizzante Gruner Veltliner? I think not.
Dude. Where are you? Assessing the scene will help you pick a style of wine. The scene goes beyond what you’re eating. Where are you? Who are you with? How do you want to feel. Drinking wine is your opportunity to define the moment. Is this a Chardonnay moment or something more brooding… like Nebbiolo.
The Best Wine For The Mood
- “Light & Fruity”
- If the sun is still shining and you are just starting the night, a light and fruity wine is perfect because it’s easy to drink.
- “Light & Earthy”
- The intellectuals wine. Light and earthy wines have subtle flavors and complex aromatics. They are great for slow drinkers.
- “Bold & Fruity”
- The classic “Crowd Pleaser” wine. These wines work great to satisfy large groups where preferences are diverse.
- “Bold & Earthy”
- Serious business. The black coffee of wine.
Learn the basic wine characteristics to discover your favorite styles of wine.
Two People = One Bottle
One thing to keep in mind is that a bottle of wine is only 2.5 glasses per person. If you have a party of 6 consider ordering two bottles, one bottle will only offer small 4oz servings.
Size Up The Wine List
Geoff sized up the wine list fast, but then again, he is a Master Sommelier. Here’s how you can narrow down the wine list into a few top picks.
How is the wine list organized?
Most wine lists are separated by color (white, red, etc.) and then organized by region or variety. All great wine lists have a specialty. So, for instance, Sullivan’s Steakhouse has a huge selection of Napa Cabernet, and A16 in San Francisco sells wines from Southern Italy. Once you size up the list, narrow it down to style.
Pick a style of wine
Match the wine either with your mood or your food. Do you need a crowd-pleaser wine… or something more austere? See the chart above for examples.
Pick your price range
An average bottle of wine is usually 2 times the cost of a single entrée. A $25 entree means wines will be in the $50 range. If you are on a budget, don’t be afraid of the cheapest wine, the sommelier put it there for a reason (especially if it’s an esoteric wine variety). Sometimes the cheapest wine is better than the 2nd Cheapest Wine.
Normal people (read: non-winos) generally drink white wine at lunch and red wine at night. You can get people on board to drinking white wine if you get a bottle of red too!
Why order a bottle? Read The Trouble with Wine by The Glass
That was easy! If you use the techniques above, you’ll be able to narrow down your choices to 2-4 wines. At this point you could mention 2 or all of your top picks to the wine server. Instead of saying “which one of these is your favorite” say something like “I’m looking for something rich and smooth, which one of these fits best?”
Master The Wine Presentation
Now that you’re on the spot you’ve got to make sure that whatever you picked is sound. A wine is sound when it is clear of wine faults. Watch the video on how to master “The Wine Presentation.”
Ordering Wine at a Restaurant
Let’s admit it, the best dinners have more than one bottle of wine. You’ll either be ordering a second bottle, or progressing down the wine spectrum to a deeper-and-richer wine. Have that second bottle order ready to go at the same time you pick the first.
Is there a wine snob with you? Never worry about wine snobs again.