Ordering wine at a restaurant can be a daunting task, particularly if there are a lot of choices or the wines are unfamiliar to us. Our lovely sommelier friend, Kimberley Drake, has kindly written a few words of advice for us.
A sommelier’s guide to ordering wine at a restaurant:
Ordering wine can feel like an awkward thing, but it shouldn’t be. A few tricks of the trade to order a wine to enjoy from the restaurant’s list:
Before you order decide what kinds of wines you like to drink and if you’re open to branching out and experimenting with expanding your palate, as well as if your guests have any preferences. Sometimes you just want to drink what you already feel comfortable with, while other times you feel like exploring pairing possibilities – but determine which you prefer and convey this to the sommelier so that s/he can efficiently begin helping you with suggestions that will be appealing to you.
Also, consider what you will be eating as part of your decision in what you will be drinking. Traditionally, wine is paired based upon the food you order, but some people prefer to pair food based upon which wines they are drinking. Choose whichever you prefer to do, as the sommelier can help you with both options.
Do a little bit of research if this is an important dinner for you. Many restaurants have menus and wine lists available on-line, so you can have a look to see what they have available. This doesn’t mean that you have to select something specific ahead of time, but it does mean that you have the opportunity to get some ideas about what is available to help you decide in terms of direction of choice. And, if you are interested in pairing wines to dishes, you can investigate what pairings work and which don’t – and why.
Just get the money question out of the way at the outset and discreetly let the sommelier know the budget per bottle you are comfortable with in spending. This way, the sommelier is aware of the pricing guidelines that will ensure a positive dining experience for you and how to best tailor your experience, and you will then be comfortable that wine selections will be made with your budget in mind. The best way to do this is to hold up the menu and say, “I would like something in this range, please” while pointing to a price on the menu.
Don’t hesitate to ask the sommelier – they are there to help! And they will be proud of the lists they’ve spent so much time putting together. Asking questions that provide guidelines is the best approach. For example, “I like Bordeaux wines, but would love to try something new that is similar in style,” or “I like Chardonnays that don’t have too much oak, can you recommend one off of your list?” This is also a great time to tell them what you’re planning to order and ask their opinion about wine based upon that and your preferences.
Giving the sommelier or in-house wine authority a feel for what you are looking for in terms of preference and budget will increase the chance that you will get a wine you will enjoy and will help them offer valid suggestions in a timely manner.
Bits and Bobs
The wine should be presented to you to taste before it is poured, and it is during this time that you either accept or reject the wine. The only reason to reject it would be if it is flawed (corked, cooked or oxidised), or if you feel that it in no way represents what you discussed with the sommelier. If it is not cold enough, have them ice the wine down; and, if it is too cold then have them leave the bottle on the table.
When you put all of these points together, you should end up with a nice bottle of wine that was seamlessly selected. All it takes is a little bit of decision making and research… and practice!