How to Order Wine on a Date When You Know Nothing About Wine

By Jack Prenter / July 11, 2017
How to Choose Wine 101

Wine is one of the most brilliant tastes in the world and reports show that in the US it’s just as popular as beer. If you’ve ever been on a date to a restaurant, you'll have to pick a bottle of wine that you know nothing about from a huge list of words that you can’t pronounce.

The wine world has always been purposefully confusing, creating a sense of exclusivity that allows them to increase prices. That’s not to say that wine isn’t excellent and that it doesn’t take immense skill to create and to taste.

We love wine here at Known Man, and that’s why today we’ll be giving you a primer to wine so that you know exactly how to order wine on your next date.

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How to Order Wine

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The process of ordering wine

Having talked to a lot of guys about the dates they’ve been on, it’s a common theme that they feel pressured when they go to order wine at a restaurant. To combat that, let’s look at the process of order so that you know what to expect.

Read the list

When you first arrive at the restaurant, you’ll be seated and presented with a food menu. If there isn’t a wine menu too, you can ask the server for one. You’ll get a few minutes to read the list before the server comes back and asks you what you’d like to drink.

Pick a wine

We’ll go over how you can choose the wine in a moment, but when the server returns to your table, they’ll ask you what you would like to drink. You can tell them the bottle, or if you’re unsure how to pronounce it don’t be afraid to show him on the menu or even give a partial phrase.

For example; You might want to order the “Trimbach 2014 Réserve Pinot Gris (Alsace)”, but you’re afraid of pronouncing it wrong. You could ask for the 2014 Pinot (pee-no) and point to the wine on the list.

Approve the wine

After you order the wine, the server will get it from their backroom and bring it to your table. We’ll cover how you can approve the wine later in this article.

How to pick a wine

Picking wine is the most difficult part for most men. The majority of us know very little about wine and might have only experienced supermarket brands in the past.

The important thing to remember is that the quality of the wine is down to the restaurant. If you order wine from their list and it’s not good, that’s the fault of the sommelier.

Of course, we all have individual tastes. But it’s the job of the sommelier to factor this in and pick wines that are appealing to the majority of people.

Prepare in advance

If you’re nervous about picking wine under pressure, then the best thing you can do is to prepare in advance. This is particularly easy these days because most restaurants will have their wine lists on their website.

Have a look at the different types of wines available and select a few that will pair well with a variety of dishes. When looking at the wine list, you can search how much each bottle costs in a retail store. A pair markup is 2 - 2.5x the price in a store. Any more than that and you might consider another restaurant.

Price

We all have a budget, some bigger than others, but there’s no worse feeling than going over it. In general, the more you spend on a bottle, the better it will taste. However, that's not always the case.

Most people aren’t able to tell the difference between a $50 bottle of wine and a $200 bottle. However, they can probably notice the difference between the $50 bottle and the cheapest $16 bottle on the menu.

The point is that price should be taken into account, but it’s not the most important factor. If you don’t like Pinot Grigio or you’re eating steak, even a $200 bottle won’t make you enjoy it.

It's best to buy the most expensive wine to which your budget can stretch. However, avoiding the 2nd cheapest wine is usually good advice.

Over 50% of customers order the 2nd most inexpensive wine. Restaurants know this, and they often put a bottle of wine at that price point that is no better than the cheapest wine on the list.

So, if your budget can only extend to the 2nd cheapest wine, the difference between that and the cheapest will be small. Just don’t let your date notice if you do order the cheapest!

The only wine that you should avoid, if possible, is the table wine. These wines aren’t good for anything but cooking.

Ask your date what they prefer

Most of us aren’t wine snobs, and there is no point trying to force wine onto someone who doesn’t like it, regardless of how well it will pair.

So, if your date wants to have a Pinot Noir with their fish, go with it. You’re there to potentially form a relationship, not teach your partner about how to expertly pair wine with different foods. Although, that’s something to look for in any partner, naturally.

Ask the sommelier

If you’re in doubt, ask to speak to the sommelier. Most fancier restaurants will either have a dedicated sommelier, or a manager or server who is the designated wine expert.

They’ll be able to give you advice and be able to help you choose wine. The best sommeliers won’t force wine upon you; they’ll ask questions to decide what you would enjoy most.

Don’t try and use fancy words stick to red or white, dry or sweet, rich or light.

Types of wines

Wine comes in a huge variety of options, obviously, you have red and white wines but within those groups there are different grapes that dictate the taste.

Wine is made from grapes, not the type you buy from the store, but a thicker and sweeter grape. The wine is made with either a single grape or a mixture.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular wine variety in the world currently. It's characterized by a full-body, strong tannins and a higher than average level of alcohol.

Syrah

Syrah is more commonly known as Shiraz, it's a full-bodied red wine that is produced mainly in Australia and the Rhône Valley in France.

Syrah stands out as a sweet wine, it has strong notes of blueberry, plum and tobacco, with some producers adding a little spice to the flavor.​

Zinfandel

Zinfandel is a popular red wine that was originally found in Croatia. Zinfandel is a fruity wine that seems to be becoming more popular each year.

This is an approachable variety of wine that is medium to full-bodied and has a medium finish.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir has seen a surge in popularity over the past decade. Before that, it was often disregarded by sommeliers because it's often not as complex as more traditional varieties.

This is a favorite of ours but is often one of the most expensive varieties because the grape is particularly hard to grow.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is most commonly found in France, it's a dry white wine that is characterized by zest and citrus​. As one of the most popular white wines, it can be found at reasonable prices.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is another dry white wine. Unlike Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc is tart, with strong grapefruit and herbal green flavors.

It has very little sweetness and is particularly acidic.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris can be found heavily planted in Italy, but you may also find vineyards in France and Germany.

It's a dry light-bodied white wine that has gentle citrus and fruit flavors, with delicate floral notes as well.

Riesling

Riesling is another popular white wine that is particularly acidic. However, it can be found in sweeter and less acidic varieties, making it an interesting wine choice.

Riesling is normally characterized as floral and aromatic. The fruit flavors are citrus and stone fruit.

Pairing

Picking wine to drink at dinner is arguably much easier than picking a wine to enjoy by itself. There are relatively strict rules which govern which wines to order with which foods, created because of the contrasts in taste profiles.

Obviously, meals have more than one ingredient. The smartest way to pair is with the dominant flavor and most important part of the meal. Steak might come with potato, vegetables and sauce, but the steak is the most important part.

Red meat - Bold red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz) or Medium red (Merlot, Zinfandel)

White meat - Medium red (Merlot), light red (Pinot Noir, St. Laurent) or rich white (Chardonnay)

Fish - Sparkling wine (Champagne, Prosecco), rich white (Chardonnay) or sweet white (Moscato)

Vegetables or salad - Dry white (Sauvignon blanc, Pinot grigio)

Vintage and region

Without having tasted the wine before it’s tough to know how good it will be. The best indicators you can use are price, vintage, and region.

Certain regions are known for producing certain types of wine and are often better than obscure areas. For example; Syrah is often found in Australia and Malbec in Argentina.

If you know nothing about any of the wines on the list then cross-referencing the variety to the region and vintage is a good start.

Here are some recommended combinations:

Malbec: From Mendoza, Argentina. Look for 2013 and 2012 vintages.

Cabernet Sauvignon: From Chile and California. Look for 2013 and 2012 vintages.

Syrah/Shiraz: From South Australia and Rhône. Look for 2015, 2012 and 2010 vintages.

Pinot Noir: From Burgundy and California. Look for 2014 or 2012 vintages.

Chardonnay: From Burgundy and California. Look for 2014 or 2013 vintages.

Sauvignon Blanc: From Loire Valley and New Zealand. Look for last 6 - 18 months.

Pinot Gris: From Italy. Look for last 3 - 18 months.

Approving the wine

When you’ve ordered the wine, the server will bring it to your table, and you’ll be asked to approve the wine.

Verify the bottle

The first thing they’ll do is present the bottle to you. The reason for this is to check that it’s the right bottle, servers are busy, and it’s not impossible that they just picked up the wrong bottle.

When they present the bottle to you, check it’s the right variety, maker, and vintage. You can signal the server with a nod or just say “perfect” or “thank you.”

Inspect the cork

Once you’ve verified the bottle, they’ll remove the cork and often give you the cork. Don’t make the mistake of smelling the cork. You’re not going to smell anything other than cork.

The point of giving you the cork is so that you can inspect it. What you want to look for is any evidence of wine stains along the sides of the cork. These stains would indicate an improper seal and could be a sign that the wine is compromised. However, it may still be fine.

Approve the wine sample

Next, you’ll be poured a small sample. The sample isn’t for you to see if you enjoy the taste of the wine, it’s to ensure that the wine is authentic and doesn’t have problems. If you do have any of the following problems then simply let the server know the wine is bad and ask for another bottle.

When you taste the wine make sure to take your time. Swirl the wine around your mouth and test for any problems. If in doubt, ask the server or sommelier to taste the wine and get their professional opinion.

Common problems

Corked

One of the most common problems with wines that use corks is that the wine becomes corked. This is when the wine is contaminated with cork taint. It’s caused by the presence of TCA (trichloroanisole) which is formed when fungi in the cork come in contact with chlorides.

Around 2-3% of all wines are corked. Although it’s safe to drink, corked wine isn’t pleasant. You’ll be able to tell if the wine is corked because it will smell damp, soggy and of cardboard. Don’t bother tasting it.

Oxidized

Oxidized wine isn’t as common as corked wine, but over a lifetime of drinking wine you’re likely to experience it as some point, Oxidized wine is caused by an incorrect seal of the cork or in the winemaking process.

Oxidized wine is easy to notice by appearance and taste. It will often be cloudy or brown in appearance, with a dull or vinegar taste.

Cooked or maderized

Cooked wine is less common these days, but was a serious problem in years gone by. It occurs when the wine goes above 75 degrees.

The warm temperature will dull or flatten the flavor of the wine. If the wine doesn’t taste of a lot and there is wine seepage around the cork, then the bottle might have been cooked.

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