Picture this: You’ve just been seated at the new restaurant that you've been dying to try and the waiter hands you the wine list...
(a) Pass it to your date or one of your friends to decide?
(b) Stick to trusty diet coke or beer, which probably doesn't pair very well with your soon-to-be-devoured delicious meal?
(c) Ask the waiter to make a recommendation and risk being sold the most expensive wine on the list?
(d) Back yourself to choose an awesome new wine?
You're reading this, so let's assume you choose to go with (d). But where do you start?
1) Firstly, don't choose your wine first. It's important to get the right bottle to match your food, otherwise what's the point? One slick way to get a drink in your hand asap, and look like pro at the same time, is to order a couple of glasses of Champagne as soon as you sit down. This buys you some time to look at the menu. Know your favourite type of fizz that you feel comfortable paying for and if they don't have it, ask the waiter to pick something similar.
2) Once you've chosen your food, it's time to choose the type of wine. Here, some easy matching principles can come into play. It's a good idea to memorise the basic rules of wine-matching, otherwise you’re flying blind. See our previous post to brush up.
3) Now you know which type of wine, but you're still not sure which bottle. With no other information to go by, the region can be a good fall-back option. Shiraz from the Barossa, Sav Blanc from New Zealand, Sémillon from the Hunter Valley, Malbec from Mendoza. Although many different regions can produce excellent wines across all different grape varieties, as a back-up, it's handy to know which wine regions are famous for different grapes.
4) If you get stuck with a wine list with only French-sounding bottles, don't worry, it's likely the grapes are the same. In France the bottles are named after the region instead of the grape. So, ask your waiter which French wine is made with Shiraz, Pinot or Chardonnay grapes, for example. If they don't know, don't worry, you just proved that they know less than you.
5) And after the first four options, if your decision process has led you to the cheapest bottle on the list, don't be afraid to choose it! The cheapest is usually better quality than the (much higher selling) second-cheapest bottle, which often has the biggest margins for the restaurant. Just don't try explaining this to your date…
6) If you still have absolutely no idea, your best option is to revert to option (C) – and don’t be afraid to give the sommelier an idea of your budget!