In case you haven’t noticed, wine is definitely one of our pleasures here at WineLoversVillage. But, we know that for many people, tasting and buying wine can be intimidating and confusing, to say the least. But, it doesn’t have to be. Armed with these tips, learning all about wines can and should be a fun, pleasurable experience. Here’s how…
Who Chooses The Wine
What happens when you’re having dinner with a group of people and everyone decides they’d like wine with dinner? There are several issues you’ll need to consider. First, the issue of who gets to select the wine or who makes the selection by default. Then, you have to tend with who likes red, who likes white, who wants dry. Sometimes it’s just easier for everyone to order by the glass. But, if you decide to get bottles and someone steps up and grabs the wine list, then you need to decide if you’re comfortable letting them do this.
If price matters to you, then you need to speak up BEFORE the bottles are ordered. We’ve had a friend who took the lead and ordered a $150 bottle of wine that we didn’t realize until the check came. It was an expensive lesson learned, but it makes for a great story AND gets our point across about price. If no one is really comfortable making the selection or to not create any hard feelings, then…
Ask For Help From The Sommelier
Ordering wine in a restaurant is hard or should I say intimidating for pretty much everyone. You want to get a nice bottle, but don’t want to REALLY overpay, and don’t want to come off looking totally naive. This is especially true when you are in, say a French restaurant. The wine list is heavy on the French, and you know nothing about these wines.
Plus, most people are uncomfortable saying how much they want to spend for a bottle. But, please don’t. Tell them price range along with your preference – white/red, dry/sweet, French/California, etc. and let them make a recommendation. This is your chance to discover a new wine that you would probably have never tried.
I am very clear when they ask what I like. With a white, I may say dry, crisp, light, easy to drink with a fruity taste, or with a red, solid, but not super strong, without a tangy taste. Or tell them what type of wine you normally like such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Noir. You don’t have to take their recommendation, but I’m not often steered wrong as it is their reputation and they do want you to be pleased. I’ve been very fortunate that not many have tried to steer us to the $200 bottle.
When There Isn’t A Sommelier
Sometimes there won’t be a sommelier at a restaurant,and it’s up to the waiter to make a recommendation. I have found mixed results with this option, but the servers should be trained in what’s on their wine list. When in doubt, I will pick either a label I’m familiar with or type of grape I want to drink in the mid-priced range. If I don’t know the labels, I do ask what’s dry as I’m very particular about not drinking a sweet wine.
If You’re The Taster At The Table
So, you’ve gotten through the ordering process, but the stress isn’t over yet. Now, you have to approve the wine you’ve selected. That little sip gets poured into the glass right in front of you. What do you do? Swirl, sniff, and taste and do you drink the whole amount poured or just take a sip? I take a sniff and then a sip. I’m not a swirler, as I’m not comfortable doing it and have no idea if it will make a difference in my taste. On the other hand, if you are a swirler and know what you’re doing, swirl away!
If You Don’t Like The Wine
You can get a bad bottle, but I’ve rarely seen this happen. If it does happen to you, then definitely say something if it tastes bad/rancid. The sommelier will generally take a sip and get you a different bottle. If you just don’t like the taste, say you were hoping for something dryer, again say something and they will generally ask about what you don’t like and recommend a different bottle.
Drink What You Like
If you prefer red, order red, no matter what you’re having for dinner, unless of course pairing wine with food is important to you. As people say, life is too short to drink wine you don’t like…
An Opportunity To Learn
Wine tastings are great opportunities to educate yourself so you can take the stress out of ordering in restaurants. Whether you’re attending a wine tasting at someone’s house or at a vineyard in Napa, this is your chance to start or expand your knowledge about wines. The most important thing is to not be afraid to ask questions.
Seriously, the person conducting the tasting would much rather have a lively conversation going than people just standing around drinking wine. Decide going in if there’s something specific you’d like to learn about wines and ask. I once asked about wine word terminology for how to describe a wine.
Have Fun and Participate
Wine tastings should be both fun and educational. They are an opportunity to learn what you like and don’t like without having to buy. So, go ahead and swirl, sniff, and sip to your heart’s content and confidently say I smell grapefruit and oak! This is your opportunity to learn how to taste wine when you order at a restaurant next time.
Don’t Feel Obligated to Buy
You shouldn’t feel under any obligation to buy what you’re tasting, especially at wineries, but we often do. You feel the person providing the tasting has been time with you and you feel he/she needs to be rewarded. Only do this if you like the wine. If you don’t or it’s just okay, then don’t take it home with you.
At wine tastings at wineries or tasting rooms, you usually have a choice of which selection you would like to try and at many, you even pay to taste. If you are in an adventurous mood, talk to the tasting room folks about what you usually drink and that you would like to expand your horizons. They will make a recommendation and talk you through the tasting; what you are tasting and why. But remember, tastings are just that, not happy hour.
Only Buy What You Will Drink
Along the same lines, don’t buy a wine you’re not going to drink at home. If you only like Sauvignon Blanc, don’t buy Chardonnay. That said, keep in mind that often, what you try at a tasting, wine dinner, or winery is not available at your local liquor/wine store. Buying at an event or winery is also great for a party you may be hosting or as a special gift or hostess gift. Something unique and from a small winery is always special. And, you don’t want to kick yourself for not buying the Opus One when you had the chance and you now can’t find it anywhere!
The Biggest Piece of Advice…
If you only take away one piece of advice, let it be this…
Don’t let your wine sit at home and not enjoy it. We went to Napa and the Russian River Valley in California about 7 years and I still have some of the wonderful wine we bought. I haven’t wanted to open it as I knew I couldn’t purchase the bottle at home — and the wine held special memories. But, a friend set me straight. and we are now making our way through the bottles.
Oh, there’s one that was expensive and will be held for a very special occasion, but the others have become fair game.
There will always be more tastings and more delicious bottles, so I’m no longer saving them for the future, but I’m savoring them in the present…