Hello darlings. It is I, Sweet & Sassy, here to guide you through the dizzying world of wine list etiquette. "But why?" you ask. "Can't I just pick any ol' wine off the list, pretend to nod knowingly when my server presents me with the bottle, and be on my way?" Well, yes, you can. But wouldn't it be cool if you knew what you were talking about?
For example, last week I was at a media conference with some colleagues and I found myself at dinner with a group of gentlemen (you know, the cigar-smoking, Italian shoe-wearing, machismo types) who were contemplating the wine list. Now, being the sassy woman I am, I wanted to show off a little so I suggested they hand the list to me. I selected a wine from the list (pretending, of course, that I was an expert on the subject of wine) and gave it to my server. But it wasn't until the wine was poured and several nods of approval came my way through the smokey air that I realized what I had done.
Selecting from a wine list, it turns out, is a very useful skill for any businesswoman to help "shmooze" her way through a dinner - especially when at a male-dominated table. Wine selection is impressive, sexy, and it shows confidence - so I thought I might share it with my sisters! Here are some tips from The Wine Sisterhood's resident sommelier Erin Sullivan, to help you avoid any awkward moments and let you look like a true pro.
How are wine lists organized?
Wine lists can be organized in a number of different ways ranging from the most basic red and white list to a detailed run down of wines including information on appelation, tasting notes and vintage. These days, you might even see wine lists organized by grape varietals, by regions of the world or by style (like velvety, bubble, robust).
Is it okay to order the cheapest bottle of wine on the list?
Erin tells us that you shouldn't fear the cheapest bottle. “It was chosen to be on the list for a reason, and it passed the test,” she says. On every wine list, there will always be one bottle of wine that is the cheapest. If it’s the right bottle for you, don’t hesitate to order it.
Can you enjoy the same wine even if you're having completely different dishes?
It's important to remember that there are no hard and fast wine pairing rules—and they’re broken all the time. Even if you’re ordering a steak and your dining partner wants shellfish, you could meet in the middle with your wine selection. In this case, a lighter-style red wine with high acidity could work with both dishes. If you can’t meet in the middle, ask your server about the restaurant’s selection of half bottles so you each get what you want without having to order two complete bottles.
Is it better to order by the glass or by the bottle?
If you're going to be enjoying more than a couple of glasses, it’s usually more cost effective to buy a bottle. However, if the restaurant you’re dining at is offering a great deal on wine by the glass and something catches your eye—take advantage of it!
During special events or holidays, some restaurants may even offer a flight of wines for you to experience with your meal. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to let the sommelier show off his or her skills with an interesting selection.
Do you ever send back a bottle of wine?
If you've selected the bottle and you simply don’t like it, Erin doesn’t recommend that you send it back. However, if it’s a bottle that your server or sommelier selected for you as the best choice to accompany your meal and you disagree, you can request an alternate bottle.
Erin says another case where you should ask for another bottle is when you suspect that the wine is flawed – if it is corked or unsound in some way. The best way to handle the situation is to invite your sommelier to try the wine with you and determine together if it’s time to get a different bottle of wine.
When in doubt, ask your server or sommelier for help. It’s their job to assist you in choosing the best bottle of wine to pair with your meal – and they generally don’t mind showing off their expertise.
(Original Post: Navigating Your Way Through a Wine List)