Some people order wine at a restaurant with ease, others struggle. Novice drinkers, wine snobs, and even the occasional expert can sometimes find themselves stumped about which wine to choose. Ordering wine for a group can feel like even more pressure! The intimidation factor is REAL! But since there is no absolute science or one way of ordering wine, my advice to you is to RELAX! Your choice will be OK!
But if you need a few tips, keep reading.
Drink Whatever You Want
The number one rule in drinking wine is to drink what you like. Your personal preference will always trump all other recommendations. There is no rule that says you MUST pair wine with your meal. Although I’d suggest to have some idea about what you want to eat when you order your glass, randomly pairing food and wine is totally acceptable too. I do it often and I’m usually pleased with my choice. However, if you are looking to truly enhance your meal, the wine, and the entire experience, then you may want to spend a little more consideration in what you choose. Let’s dig in.
Consider What You’ll Eat
Different wines pair better with different types of cuisine, flavors and sauces. To begin, ask yourself a few questions. Will your meal be light or hearty? Delicate or flavorful? With a cream sauce or tomato sauce? Generally speaking, there are rules you can follow to find a food and wine partner. For example, highly acidic white wines often compliment light fish and seafood dishes. Pinot Noirs and lighter reds can be paired with an array of roasted poultry dishes, vegetables and moderate cheeses. Full-bodied and high tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, or Syrah blend well with the heavy proteins found in steaks and hearty meat dishes. As for menu desserts, it’s probably best to stay in the lane of sweet wines. Check out this full pairing guide for more tips!
Ask Your Sommelier
Your sommelier loves for you to ask questions about wine and food and are “eagerly” standing by! Use them. First, they can help translate wine on a list from different regions you may be less familiar with. Second, they have the skill-set to work through more obscure and unique pairings. For example, they will be able to help pair wine with a dish that has many complex flavors, or with the restaurant’s special of the day. Lastly, the sommelier can also introduce new wines you may have not considered that may even pair better than that “old faithful” Cab you always fall back on. Use your sommelier! Pick their brain. Ask for suggestions. Try new things. It’s their job.
Buy the Bottle
If you know you and your party (or perhaps just you) will have several glasses of wine, it may be more cost-effective to purchase the bottle for a full table-side service experience. Aside from price, another advantage of utilizing this option is having way more access to the variety of wines in a restaurant’s cellar. Most restaurants have a limited “by-the-glass” section that may or may not pair well with the food you want to order. But venturing over to the cellar list will open up many interesting pairing options and gain your access to more obscure choices, vintages and varieties that may be more enjoyable. Hop on over to the cellar side!
People don’t use this option often enough. It’s not tacky to bring your own bottle of wine from home! Many restaurants allow you to bring in an unopened bottle with the addition of a “corkage fee,” which generally ranges between $10 and $40. Since cellared bottle prices can be a bit expensive after the restaurant mark-up, you may fare better just paying the fee and saving the money to drink your own bottle. (I recently paid $80 for a restaurant bottle that sells in stores for $16.99. I would have saved over half the cost by simply paying a corkage fee to bring it from home.) It always helps to call ahead and make sure the restaurant has a BYOB option and to know the fee in advance-if that matters to you.
Above ALL else, personal preference is what matters. When in doubt, choose something you’re familiar with and like. That’s it!
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