You’ve bought the flowers, got the card and booked the table. But now the fun starts – how to impress your other half and work your way through the dreaded wine list?
Ordering wine is not nearly as complicated or as scary as some people think it is – provided you remember a few simple rules. First, don’t order red wine with fish (each will spoil the flavour of the other). Second, know your budget and stick to it. Third, don’t just home in on a familiar name (for example Sancerre or Rioja).
Fourth, you aren’t expected to know everything about wine (it’s the sign of a more sophisticated customer to have the confidence to ask questions, but don’t try to impress the wine waiter with your knowledge – it won’t work). Finally, don’t be afraid to order the cheapest bottle on the list: the house wine. This is often good value, and decent restaurants take care in selecting their house wines.
They can be as good as the bottles two or three steps down the price list (where most people gravitate), but much less costly.
In a good restaurant there may well be a sommelier – a member of staff responsible for wine, who puts the list together and takes care of wine service. If there is, use them. If not, there is still likely to be a waiter with wine training who is familiar with the list. But whoever you talk to, remember that you are in control: it’s your money, and to seek advice doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Ask questions and you’ll get a feel for whether the sommelier is a wine lover or simply a salesperson. If the latter, politely thank him or her and choose yourself. If the former, listen to their advice and you may well discover something amazing
Once you have ordered your wine, the bottle will be brought to your table and shown to you, then a little will be poured into your glass. What are you supposed to do? First, check it is the wine you ordered (and the right vintage, if this is significant). Then swirl the glass gently and take a sniff, followed by a sip.
You are inspecting the wine to see whether it is faulty or out of condition. You are not being asked to comment on the wine, or whether or not you like it. If it smells and tastes OK then nod and the wine will be poured.
The reason for this ritual is that cork is a natural substance and a small proportion of wines are tainted (“cork taint”), which results in them having musty flavours, a bit like damp cellars or mouldy cardboard. This is rarer than it used to be, but still occurs.
If the wine smells musty, or odd or unpleasant in any way, you are entitled to ask for a second bottle. If you have doubts, ask the person serving whether they think the wine is right or not. An honest sommelier would be horrified to serve you a faulty wine and will quickly replace it. But remember, you aren’t supposed to reject a wine unless it’s faulty.
Wines with screw caps or plastic corks are very unlikely to be tainted, so if you want to look like a super-sophisticated, confident wine expert, just take a quick sniff and nod to the server.
Once you’ve accepted the wine, all you have to do is drink it – but sometimes that isn’t as straightforward as it should be. Perhaps you and your partner have emptied your glasses but your bottle is sitting yards away in an ice bucket and your table seems to be invisible to the busy staff.
Or the opposite may happen: you can’t take a single sip without a waiter dashing over to fill your glass to the brim. In both cases, you are perfectly within your rights to take control. It’s your wine and your decision when to drink it. So stand up, discreetly retrieve your bottle and pour it – or politely tell staff that they can leave the bottle on your table and you will see to it yourselves.
Then, with choosing and pouring all taken care of, all you have to do is raise a glass to your loved one.
By: Jamie Goode