Navigating a wine list

We know that many Americans who like wine are actually intimated by it so they don't drink it as often as they'd like – especially in situations when they're already nervous, like on a date. To help squelch the fear of ordering wine on a date, we offer some easy-to-remember tips to help everyone breathe a sigh of relief.

First Things First

Imagine the scene. You've just been seated, had a sip of water and before you can put your napkin on your lap the waiter is asking for your drink order. Don't panic. Buy some time by ordering a glass of sparkling wine – whatever the restaurant is pouring by the glass. Sparkling wine is the perfect beginning to any meal; it makes you seem confident and also loosens the nerves for when it's time to order the table wine.

Get the Lay of the Land 

Traditionally restaurants organize their wine lists by varietals (grape variety) or country of origin, and recently many have started to organize by flavor. Flavor is by far the most convenient for a novice. But, whether the list is organized by varietals or flavors, the lighter wines will be at the top and the boldest selections will be at the end.

Food Friendly Basics 

There are some very easy things that you can remember to put your mind at ease, even before opening the wine list. Know a few food-friendly standby wines, like Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Other varieties that are less common but are also very food-friendly are Sangiovese from Italy and Spanish Albariño. Most any wine list you encounter will have at least a couple of these to choose from.
And don’t worry about those “old-school rules” that tell you red wine must accompany meat and don’t you dare drink anything but white wine with fish. The only rule you need to remember is drink the wines you like with the foods you like. By following that simple rule, you’ll naturally end up with a pairing that’s perfect for you – and your date.

Make Friends with the Sommelier 

Many people think of sommeliers as intimidating and highbrow and therefore are reluctant to ask for their advice, especially in a situation where they are worried about impressing a date. But there’s nothing further from the truth. Sommeliers love wine and love talking about wine. There’s no better resource than the sommelier if you find yourself in need of some on-the-spot advice. Start by asking a simple, straight-forward question – you’ll be surprised how much you can learn.

Consider the Price 

When buying a bottle of wine in a restaurant, always expect to pay at least double the restaurant’s original purchase price. Less expensive wine will be marked up more than an already pricey wine. To get the most for your money figure out what the average price range on the menu is (say $20-40) and order a bottle within that price range. The basic rule of supply and demand applies to wine prices. Even a very good wine will be priced according to how popular it is at the time.
Also, if you know how much you want to spend, but need the sommelier’s help making the selection, don’t be afraid to indicate your price range to him or her. And don’t worry if you don’t want to verbalize it in front of your date, simply point to a wine in your price range and say, “I would like something in this region.” The sommelier can help suggest wines in your price range and your date will think you are speaking of the Napa Valley.

And Don’t Forget Your Date? 

If you don’t know much about wine, admit it. Open up the conversation by asking your date if he/she has much wine knowledge. By sharing both of your thoughts with the sommelier and deciding on the wine together, two things are accomplished – you take the heat off yourself, and at the same time initiate an engrossing conversation with your date. It’s a great way to loosen things up and start connecting with your date. Research shows your date you are willing to learn and they will appreciate it, too. Sixty-five percent of young wine drinkers (21-28 year olds) say they prefer to make the wine decision jointly.

The most important thing to remember when dining out on a date is to have fun.

Navigating a wine list

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