A Guide to Ordering Wine like a True Connoisseur
You’ve been bitten by the wine bug. Though you’ve had your share of Chardonnays, Merlots, and Cabernet Sauvignons, the thought of ordering wine in a restaurant still fills you with dread. While you can stand to drink so-so wine when you’re flying solo, it’s a completely different scenario when you’re ordering wine for a date, or for an entire group.
The truth is that even long-term wine drinkers can feel a bit stumped when faced with a wine list that rivals the telephone directory in thickness. What sets these connoisseurs apart from novice wine drinkers is their ability to calmly peruse the lengthiest of leather-bound wine lists and make an unhurried and informed decision.
To help you conquer the most intimidating of wine lists, Singapore Wine Vault gives you tips on how to order wine like a true connoisseur.
Unless your restaurant trip is unplanned, you ought to have enough time to conduct a bit of wine research. Most posh restaurants have a website that includes their menus and wine lists. If your destination-of-choice has the contents of its wine cellar on its webpage, we recommend checking and even pre-ordering your wine before the big event.
No website? No problem. You can also call the restaurant in advance to ask for their available tipples and recommendations. Now, if you’re afraid of mispronouncing your choice of tipple, then you can also scour the net for pronunciation guides.
Take your time in making a decision
Having the sommelier or the waiter watching over your shoulder as you read the wine list can be an extremely stressful situation. But don’t be afraid to take your time. When asked if you’ve made your decision, smile politely and say that you’re just going over the list. If you’re offered a sip of the restaurant’s finest wine, don’t feel pressured to make the selection just yet. It’s better to take a few minutes to make your decision than to hastily agree to a tipple that you’re bound to forget, or even regret.
Decide on what you’re having for dinner before picking out your wine
The most basic rule for food and wine pairings is to go for red when you’re having meat, and to pick white if you’re having fish. Traditionally, rosé wines have been relegated as aperitifs, the perfect combination for hors d’oeuvres and light salads. While these fundamental principles have their merits, recent wine lifestyle trends have many enthusiasts bucking these practices.
Rosé wines are now paired with savory Asian dishes, Pinot Noir with roasted black bass, and white Burgundy with steak tartare. So if you’ve found a dry, white wine that pairs beautifully with a pork or chicken dish, by all means, order away. However, if you’re not confident about your decision, it might be best to take the traditional route on this one.
Name your price range
When dining out, many wine drinkers feel obligated to throw their budget out the window when it comes to their choice of wine. While this is all well and good if you can spare the cash, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with mentioning and sticking to your price range. If you’re shy to do so, you can discreetly point to the tipple that falls within your budget and say, ‘I want something along these lines.’ Most sommeliers and waiters will get the hint and start pointing out items that will fall within your budget.
If you’re dining with a group, another option is to scrap the by-the-glass option and ask for a half-bottle. Keep in mind that many restaurateurs would want a return in their investment as soon as possible. They’ll want to recoup the amount of the entire bottle with the first few glasses of wine. Going for a half-bottle gives you the financial freedom to pick more than just one wine for your group.
Take your cues from the wine list
When going through the restaurant’s wine cellar picks, try to find a ‘theme’ in the wine list. Most restaurants have specialty wines. For example, if a steak joint offers a dozen Bordeaux wines and only a couple of Spanish bottles, it usually means that the place has a pretty good selection of French tipples.
Know what not to order—house wines and reserve wines included
Unless you’re dining in a popular wine region, we don’t recommend going for house wines. In most countries, the house wine is usually the cheapest tipple in the place. Restaurants will try to peddle these wines off to patrons who can’t tell the difference between quality wine and run-of-the-mill tipple. We also don’t recommend asking for reserve wines, unless of course, your wallet can take the beating. Reserve wines may be the best tipples in the restaurant owner’s wine cellar, but they also come with hefty price tags.
Speak the language of wine
You don’t need to be a world-class wine critic to speak the language of wine. There are actually just three basic characteristics that you need to consider—body, texture, and flavor. When it comes to the wine’s body, it’s usually just a choice between ‘light-bodied,’ a characteristic of crisp and young wines, ‘heavy-bodied,’ which you’ll find in aged tipples and richer reds like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the middle-ground, which includes French Burgundies, Rosés, and Sauvignon Blancs.
As for texture or mouthfeel, this has to do with the acidity and tannin content of the wine. It’s a question of whether you prefer your wine dry or smooth, or silky. And lastly, you have flavor. In the broadest sense, your choice is usually between savory and sweet. Note that when we say ‘sweet,’ we don’t mean sugary. Rather it’s when the wine is fruit-forward, with very little or no piquant undertones.
When you put all of these factors together, what you’ll end up with is a question that can be answered by any sommelier. For example, “Can you recommend a full-bodied, smooth, and savory red wine?” Chances are, you’ll be offered a quality Cab.
So the next time you’re faced with a lengthy wine list, keep calm and remember these tips. We guarantee that your taste buds and your wallet will thank you for it.