Ordering Wine Like a Boss: and Getting Over your "Wine-List Phobia"
It’s a Thursday night, the city that never sleeps, is most certainly not sleeping. You arrive at your dinner spot and the energy in the room is electric. You and your party are seated and an urge of excitement and anticipation about what to order and how much catch up is about to happen ensues. Then, you notice something glaring at you. Something you so desperately want to pick up with confidence, but shy away from and regretfully ignore. THE WINE LIST. It is no doubt an intimidating thought. There is so much pressure around knowing the wines, pleasing the group, and finding that perfect pair. But let’s face it, some reading this including myself are not sommeliers nor experts, however, I think we all can admit it would be nice to confidently pick up a wine list and order a bottle for the group with ease.
Here I’m going to share with you a few tips (and tricks) to help you conquer your wine list fears and arm you for your next encounter so next time, you will LEAN INTO your energy and pick up that list like a BOSS!
Buy some time with CHAMPAGNE or PROSECCO
If at first glance you have no idea what to order and/or are still deciding on what everyone is ordering for their meal, get the bubbles flowing with an aperitivo to A. buy you time and B. to refresh the palette before the main event.
Knowledge is POWER: Have a general sense of food + wine pairings (don’t worry - cheat sheet below)
Salty Foods - Salty foods pair well with acidic wines since salt in food enhances the body + decreases bitterness and acid in the wine. (Classic Example: Oysters + Champagne)
Acidic Foods - Choose a high acid wine to balance + enhance the fruitiness in the wine. Since high acid foods decrease acidity in a wine, if you choose a low acid wine to pair with a high acid food, the wine will taste flat and stale. (Classic Example: Pasta with plum tomato sauce & Sangiovese)
Spicy Foods - This is a little bit of personal preference and what you can handle (chili) heat wise, but spicy foods enhance the bitterness, acid and the alcohol burn in a wine and decreases the richness, sweetness and fruitiness. A good general rule is to pair chili foods with a low alcohol / low tannin wine. (Classic Example: Turkey Chili & Gewürztraminer)
Sweet Foods - Select a wine that has the same if not higher level of sweetness. Sweetness in food will increase a wines bitterness, acidity and burning affect, it also makes a dry wine lose its fruitiness. (Classic Example: Dark chocolate & Port)
(***WSET studying coming in handy!)
Take note of the restaurant’s cuisine
If I’m dining at an Italian restaurant, I’m going to indulge in an Italian wine. Enough said.
Look for something familiar that’s usually your go-to
For me this is an Oregon Pinot Noir. I tend to think it’s the safest crowd pleaser. It’s light-medium bodied so not too over bearing and usually excellent quality (since Oregon is known for their Pinot Noir growing region).
Don’t fall for the second cheapest bottle trap
The second cheapest bottle is a mind F**k. Think about it, someone ordering wine doesn’t want to look “cheap” and order the cheapest bottle on the list so they go for the second cheapest. Restauranteurs are aware of this therefore, these bottles are the absolute worst value. Marissa A. Ross can attest to this too! “Restaurants will often price very cheap wines as the second-cheapest in order to cash in on the profit margin created by people’s insecurities.”
When all else fails, ask the Somm
Similar to your wine store (more about that here), lean on the Somm to help you choose. Be transparent about your price point and what you are having for dinner. They are there for a reason and armed to answer your questions!
Overall, I still struggle with this “wine list phobia” however, I have found that like most things, it does get easier with practice and I have no doubt that this is more fun than your day job (another story for another time - for those who actually love their day job read on here)!
To solidify things, I sought out some Instagram inspo for additional tips/tricks to utilize!
“1. Use the Somm 2. Stand by what you know you like 3. If you have different guests at the table ordering different dishes (i.e fish and steak), go with the Pinot Noir. It is the most versatile.” @Syrah_Queen (great minds think alike!)
“1. By the Glass - be adventurous! Try a varietal you haven’t had before. It’s a great opportunity to explore without having to commit to a full bottle. 2. By the Bottle - Ask for help. If the restaurant has a Somm, pick their brain and have them steer you in the right direction. Don’t let the fancy title intimidate you, they’re usually super approachable and happy and eager to help you find a great bottle at any price range.” @thevintnerproject (agreed!)
“A little pre-education goes a long way! Knowing the difference between Pouilly Fumé and Pouilly Fuissé can make a world of difference. However, the most important aspect of ordering a wine at a restaurant is knowing what you like and not being afraid to ask questions or have your wine decanted!” @therealhousewine (love this!)
Have wine list follies or successes!? Would love to hear more about them on instagram stories! Simply tag @winefarer and I’ll share! Cheers!