By Isabelle Webster
There’s this thing that some people do on a date that they think is really smart and clever and lowkey not obvious. But it’s actually very, very obvious … and not very sexy.
They choose the second least expensive bottle of wine on the wine list regardless of the varietal or country/region. It’s not the least expensive but it’s on the cheaper end because you don’t want to look cheap by choosing the least expensive wine. Sure. But don’t ever order based on price. Here are some things to ask the sommelier to make sure you get what you want to drink, for the clams you’ve got, and maybe you’ll impress your dinner mates in one fell swoop.
Know your budget. It doesn’t have to be $100 plus. Just know what you’re comfortable spending so you can give the staff an idea of the general vibe. No one is judging you—they work in fucking hospo, they’re skint as and they know they only drink bougie wine because it’s a perk of the industry. They’ll be keen as mustard to help you find the right wine for your wallet because they want you to have enough left over to tip them.
Know what you like. White or red? Rose or the elusive ‘orange’? Great! But your preference doesn’t even have to be wine-related. Got a sweet tooth? Great. Like things that are savoury or salty? Do you like umami? There’s a wine for that too, you wanker. All of these things help the wait staff to help you choose a wine you’ll enjoy.
Let them, the staff, help. It’s hot to let people do what they do. Be open to suggestions and don’t second guess the staff unless you really know what you’re talking about—and even then, let it be a conversation. If you’ve established rules 1 and 2, you’re already in a safe place to allow more information to assist your decision.
Fuck the Rules
Think about what you’re eating, and then fuck that off. Drink whatever you want. Yeah, there are some ‘rules’ about pairings and some of them are legit. For instance, there’s some weird chemical compound in red wines that makes fish taste like metal (ask me about it some time). But I’m from the school of drink whatever the hell you want with whatever the heck you want. However, if you WANT to get technical, here’s my 101 on pairing: What’s the food and what condiments would you have with this food? Pick a wine that has those attributes. If you’re at a restaurant, use those words. Having lamb? Ask for a wine that has dark, blue or blackberry flavours, but is also savoury and maybe even a little minty. Chicken? Something with lemon citrus and a minerality, but also rich and textural (try a Chenin blanc if available; it’s always an excellent pairing). Oysters? Well, something that tastes like the ocean. Salty. Be specific but also use your words. It’s powerful and it’s right, always. The wine nerds speak your language—you don’t have to speak theirs.
Ask your company. Do they have a preference? (Who cares but also, let everyone talk, that’s cute).
FUCKING ENJOY YOUR WINE. Want it decanted? Ask for it. Want a specific glass? Great. Just make sure you tip the staff.
If you were moved by the wine—take a photo of the bottle. Your wine mate at the wine shop (me?) will probably know it and be able to get you the same bottle, or something similar (trust them, too). Curate your wine taste. That’s hot.
For extra credit, save some notes. I keep mine in my phone. Some say things like ‘green nerds’ (yum) or ‘disgusting, like used socks, farts and bandaids’ (we’ll talk about wine faults another time). Others say things like, ‘the time I spent two nights sleeping outside illegally in an expensive caravan park in the south of France on the floor of an alpine forest, in early September, drunk on cheap beer, on a springy bed of damp pine needles and some kind of pine mushrooms after a long surf in the hot sun, and an evening summer storm.’ You can be a wine wanker in this context; no one cares—it’s just for you—and you can track your tastes, likes and dislikes and create a wine identity. Which is cute.
Remember. Wine is for drinking first, and thinking sometimes.