There’s nothing better than going out for dinner with a friend who is educated and confident enough about wine to take on ordering duties (if you have a friend that can do the same with food, you have hit the jackpot).
But, what about when that friend is away at Thredbo and hopeful eyes from around the table turn to you to do the honours. Sure, you can always wave them off, insisting you don’t know anything about wine, or, to mix my metaphors, you can take the bull by the horns and step up.
You see, with the exception of a few wine experts, no one really knows everything about any given restaurant wine list. You’re never going to have exactly the same taste in wine as your dinner guests and vice versa, but by sticking to a few ground rules, you’ll be fine. Remember, you’re ordering a bottle of wine, even if you make an unpopular choice … who cares?
Get the lay of the land
Before you get started, survey the table. Quickly and casually, get a general consensus of budget, ask if anyone has any particular preferences or dislikes and how many bottles are needed. If they already know what food they will order, that information can also be helpful.
Don’t freak out about prices
You absolutely can buy whatever wine is on the menu cheaper online, through wine clubs or at the bottle shop, but in a restaurant, you’re also paying for the service, the venue, the facilities and the experience.
Ask for recommendations
It goes without saying that if a restaurant has a sommelier, recommending wine is their one job. If not, ask the wait staff what they would suggest. Let them know any preferences as to red or white or wine types, and don’t be shy about mentioning a price range.
Consider unique brands
You’re likely to see familiar “big” brand names on the wine list – and they’re well known for a reason. However, if a restaurant has gone to the effort of choosing an unknown winemaker for their menu, it is likely the wine has impressed them. Remember, this country – and the wine world – is full of small, boutique wineries making quality products.
Safe group selections
If you are with a large group, safe choices tend to be sauvignon blanc and shiraz.
Take the taste
At most restaurants you will be asked to sample the wine before it is poured around the table, if they don’t, ask to sample. Even if you don’t think you have a discernible palate, take your time, check the vintage on the bottle matches what you ordered, swirl the wine around the glass, sniff it and pay attention to the flavour in your mouth. If you really don’t like the taste, don’t hesitate to discuss it with the restaurant staff. If you are ordering a bottle, it should be opened in front of you.
Treat your wine right with all the best barware and accessories.
Nitesh Bhatia is the CEO and founder of Australian online wine retailer, Just Wines. Since its launch in 2014, the company has become the second biggest wine retailer in Australia, offering 6,000 products from over 1,000 Australian and New Zealand winemakers. Find out more on Facebook.