So you’re in restaurant and you’ve ordered all this wonderful food, but looked at the wine list and got stuck. You look up and you feel the stress of a table full of expectant faces giving you that ‘well, what do we drink look?’. Fear not, because here are some quick tips which will help you navigate through that peril.
Following on from part four (pairing food with wine), we’ll now move to talk about a few strategies to picking the best wine to suit the food when you are out and about.
1. Decide after you order food
It is only table manners to order what you want to eat ( I always do ) before you decide on what to drink, it helps the sommelier narrow down something cool for you. It’s no secret that your meal can be amplified several times when paired with the right vino, on the flipside, a bad bottle can ruin the whole experience when it feels like you are washing down that duck with turpentine.
2. The sommelier is your best friend
Ask him/her lots of questions. If a restaurant has a dedicated sommelier, its their job to help you choose. Even if you know alot about wine, don’t try to do his job, let him entertain you. Afterall, the sommelier drinks & buys everything on the winelist (full-time) , it’ll make for some great insights. I always learn something new when talking to sommeliers. So quiz him, ask him what’s good, what’s special, what’s worth it and what goes down well with that flamin’ steak.
3. Remember the great wine markup
This might break your heart alittle, restaurants tend to have ridiculous mark-ups on their wines. Something in the shops which sell for £10 might cost you anywhere between £25 to £30, if you’re lucky. Which is why I tend to avoid stuff I can find in the local oddbins. You might ask, ‘ How do I know if I can get it in a shop or not? ‘ , well, the truth is you won’t. This just comes with experience, but what I tend to notice is that serious establishments will have a couple of rarities from relatively unknown vineyards which haven’t achieved cult status yet. This works to your advantage because sometimes it can be unique and affordable.
Do abit of jostling with the sommelier, reject the first few boring cab savs or merlots (unless if he strongly recommends it, in which case you can’t say no) he offers and wait for him to scratch his head and go ‘ Hmm, well actually we do have this really nice one from a random vineyard that you’ve probably never heard of..’ Result. Go for that.
4. Bottle, glass or carafe?
It’s quickly becoming a trend. Younger restaurants like Arbutus or L’Autre Pied tend to offer wines by the carafes… and this is a real godsend. Not only is it more wallet friendly, it allows you to try a wider range of wines during your meal. You can easily get about 3 small glasses from a carafe so if you’re in a group of three, I strongly recommend this and then just move on to another wine.
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as ‘the perfect wine for the perfect dish’ , no. I do, however believe that there are several candidates which go well with what you’re eating. And besides, if you’re having multiple dishes, there are many flavour profiles which have to be matched. Hence, the more variation, the better the meal gets, simply because there’s more flavour swirling around – heady.
5. If there’s no love, then send it back
If you think your wine might be corked – then it’s perfectly ok to send it back. Although, this is rare, sometimes it can happen. What do I mean when the wine is corked? Well, if you feel like the wine has gone off and just tastes wrong then send it back. Its also the reason why the sommelier will stand by as he pours out a sip for you to swirl, sniff & taste. It’s just mainly to check for corkage. Of course, if you’re not sure, then just ask the sommelier, he’s your best friend remember?
6. Remember your friends
Don’t leave out your pals and be sensitive to what others like/dislike. But you already know this don’t you?
7. Finally …
Have a great meal, have a great time and make sure you enjoy yourself because that’s what this is all about. If there’s something you particularly enjoy then by all means ignore all advice and go for it because you’re paying money so that you can enjoy it and not anybody else. That’s the beauty of food & drink, it’s something that’s incorruptable by opinion because if you think it’s good – then it is.
Coming in part six..
We’ve covered alot of ground in five posts about wine, and so in part six we’re going to navigate away from this subject and talk about some wine alternatives. Yup, you read that right, alternatives. See you in part six.