Fine dining restaurants like French Laundry and Peter Luger usually have an extensive wine list, a fact that can be a boon or a bane depending on your wine expertise. If you’re a beginner in the wine game, it can be a bane because the more choices there are, the more confusion can happen, especially since wine-food pairings have to be considered.
Fortunately, there are ways to order wine and wow your family and friends, even your business colleagues and clients, when you’re the dinner host!
Talk About the Food
Before you order the wine, you should talk about the food with your dinner guests, whether they are close friends or valued clients. You can ask them beforehand their initial food choices so you have an idea of the best wines to pair with their orders. You must remember that every type of food, from pork, poultry and beef to fish and seafood, pair with specific wines so knowing beforehand the possible dish orders is a good idea.
Also, talking about the food serves as an icebreaker, of a sort, so you and your guests can segue into other topics during the dinner. Food as a conversation starter also makes sense considering that when you and your guests come into a restaurant, the food is the center of the occasion – the wine adds to the experience but it isn’t the star.
With that said, you should also ask your guests about their wine choices. These questions can include what they have been drinking recently, what bottle of wine they would like, and what their preferences are – by bottle or by glass. You may want to order wine by the bottle if it matches most of the food or by glass to match it with the different courses, from appetizers to desserts.
Avoid Choosing the Wine Based on the Price
Well, of course, not everybody has the buying power of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg but when you’re in a fine dining restaurant, you should be prepared to spend some serious money. But that doesn’t mean either that you should buy the most expensive wine on the menu in an effort to impress your guests, neither should you buy the cheapest because you’re short on money.
You will be making a negative impression otherwise – choosing the most expensive bottle makes you seem ostentatious and it isn’t classy; buying the cheapest means you’re just a tightwad who doesn’t value the fine dining experience. If you’re taking out clients, you want to demonstrate stability, success and prosperity so the cheapest wine isn’t recommended but you also want to show them responsibility so getting the most expensive isn’t recommended, too.
Besides, ordering the most expensive wine can actually backfire. Surprisingly, the most expensive wines – with the exception of a tiny percentage – aren’t the best wines or the most interesting.
Instead, choose wine based on the dishes ordered! You can ask the sommelier or wine steward about their recommended wines for the dishes and listen to their suggestions. You can point to a wine within your price range and ask about its suitability for the food – the sommelier or wine steward will get the hint and make suggestions while also being discreet about your budget.
Choose the Wine Based on the Occasion
There’s a reason champagne is best served for special occasions and it isn’t just because of his high price tag! Champagne with its bubbly texture and zesty flavor lifts up the spirit, too, thus its status as a drink for special occasions.
This applies to wines, too, a fact that even beginners have to acknowledge when ordering wine for the first time in fine dining restaurants. You should, for example, order the best wine on the list – not the most expensive wine, obviously – to celebrate closing a deal or commemorating an anniversary.
You may also choose either a local wine or a wine from your guest’s home state or country. You can order a Spanish red, for instance, if you have a Spaniard for a guest or, alternatively, you can order a local red wine. Again, you may ask your guest for his choice – it’s about making a good impression on your guest!
You don’t have to use fancy words when ordering wine to impress the sommelier or your guests. You may even find that your deference to the sommelier’s knowledge will result in a great wine within your budget. You should listen to the suggestions, ask about the wine’s characteristics and make your decision from there.
Once the bottle of wine arrives, you don’t have to further impress your guests with your wine-tasting prowess unless you’re actually a wine connoisseur. Just enjoy the wine with your food, thank the wine steward and carry on interesting conversations with your guests. You will be more impressive to your guests when you’re just being yourself and being brilliant at it.