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5 Ways to Order Wine Like a [Fake] Pro

25 July 2011 No Comment

By: Kristine Schoonmaker

If you’re fresh off your frat party days and the only wine you’ve ever had is three-buck chuck, it’s intimidating when someone passes you the wine list at your first big work dinner.  You don’t want to look like a rookie, but you wouldn’t know a good pick if your paycheck depended on it.  Fortunately, there are a few tricks of the trade that will keep everyone else from knowing that…

So how did I come to know these little gems?  Dating of course!  From the first date my boyfriend showed mad skills in the wining and dining department.  By all accounts, this guy KNEW wine.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was no expert myself.  What’s interesting is that he never claimed to have that expertise – I just assumed he had it on lock down because of the way he carried himself.  So, here are some tips (from an expert faker) to help you look like a pro.

  1. Ask the guest of honor what they prefer (A.K.A. politely passing the buck). First and foremost when you’re are at dinner with an executive or a client, don’t forget your manners.  Ask if they have a “preference” for the wine.  They may take the ball and run with it, which gets you off the hook.  Or, if they defer to you, you can always go to your bag of tricks for another option.
  2. 2. Know the basic varietals and what you like– then ask for a recommendation. While every wine is unique, varietals share similar qualities.  You don’t need to get overwhelmed by this when you’re starting out, but you do want to familiarize yourself with the biggies before dinner and get a feel for what you like.  Once you’ve started to gauge your preferences, at dinner share them with your new best friend, the sommelier (sawm-uhl-yeah), and ask for a recommendation.
  3. Describe the qualities of the wine you like – then ask for a recommendation. If you’re feeling a bit more adventuresome, or don’t recognize anything on the list, take this a step further by describing the qualities of the wines you like, not just the varietal.  Some are sweet, some spicy, some light-bodied, some full-bodied (heavy), some “earthy” – in other words, you can taste a hint of dirt.  The list goes on and on.  This option works especially well at restaurants that have an extensive wine list or feature varietals with which you are unfamiliar.  You can describe the qualities of the wines “you usually like” and ask the server or sommelier for a “similar wine they might recommend” based on your preferences.
  4. Decide what you are going to eat – then ask for a recommendation. Are you seeing a trend yet?  Recommendations, recommendations, recommendations!  Now, there are some general principles that exist when it comes to which wines go best with which foods.  White with fish and chicken…red with steak.  However, sometimes the way a dish is prepared can cause the rules to get a bit fuzzy.  Holding off on ordering wine until you’ve determined what you’re having for dinner, shows you know there are “guidelines” and that you are sophisticated enough to know that a wine selection can fight or enhance the flavors of a dish.  Once you’ve made your choice, tell your server what you’ve selected and ask what they “recommend pairing with it to really bring out the flavor of the dish.”
  5. If you spot a wine you know you like, confidently go with it. Confidence is an amazing way to deflect criticism.  Even if it’s a “cheap” wine, you can always respond with – “Life’s too short to drink bad wine.  I drink what I like – whether it’s $10 a bottle or $200.”  This says “I’m experienced enough to know what I like and am more concerned with enjoying the wine than the price tag.”  Who’s the expert now?!

These little tricks can not only save you from panic when you’re a wine newbie, but will also help you remain open to trying new ones – even as your palette grows in sophistication.  So, go out on a limb, experiment and have some fun with it.  Soon those three-buck chuck days will be nothing more than a distant memory!

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