Navigating the Wine List – Six guidelines for ordering wine
By Dappered Drinks Correspondent Ben Madeska, who on a sidenote, has opened, poured, served, drank, smelled, tasted, oggled, gargled, and aerated more wine than you’d care to know about.
There’s an exception to every rule, doubly so for ordering wine. However, there are some guidelines that will reasonably steer you through the murkiest of wine lists.
1: Order by the bottle.
It’s a better value and the wine will likely be better, or at least fresher. If you do order by the glass, white wine is usually a safer choice. Heat and oxygen are the enemy of wine and while some restaurants are great at storing open bottles, too many keep their reds on the bar next to the espresso machine. Most can at least manage to store their open bottles of white in the fridge, and as a result they taste better, longer than the reds.
2: Generally, white wines are more versatile than reds.
A light, crisp, German Riesling will pair well enough with whatever anyone at the table orders, whether scallops or steak. It may not be the ideal match, but it’s not going to ruin anyone’s meal, unlike a California Cab and the poor guy who ordered the lobster. Personally, I think a slightly sweet Riesling is the perfect choice with a dish like a black pepper seared steak anyway.
3: Match region to region.
If you’re eating food from one place, drink what they drink there, too. The better you know a country’s cuisine the better you’ll be able to match it, but look at what goes into a dish and you’ll at least get a hint of what should work. This doesn’t have to be complicated. A merlot can be just fine with pizza, but Chianti really works. A classic American hamburger off the grill? Grab a zinfandel from California.
4: Match the “size” of the wine to the “size” of the food.
A big, bold dish should have a big, bold wine. Likewise, don’t overwhelm a soft, delicate wine with a garlic and blue cheese cream sauce.
5: When in doubt, get the bubbly.
Whether it’s Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, or whatever sparkling wine (America needs to invent a better term than “sparkling wine”), there is no point before, during, or after a meal that cannot be improved by sparkling wine. Champagne and a plate of fries is an excellent way to start a long, lingering evening.
6: Tip well.
This just needs to be said more often.
Top Photo Credit: this guy.