There are a number of wine related faux pas you can commit while on a date. If you read the first part of this series, you should know pronouncing wine names correctly is the first step in impressing your date, but that will only get you so far. No one will care if you can say the wine’s name correctly if you can’t order it properly.
To get a second date with Kathleen, you must be able to order wine.
Bottle or Individual Glasses? Red or White?
When it comes to ordering wine, the first thing you should do is determine if you need a bottle or if you’re going to order individual glasses. Individual glasses are best if you’re only interested in having one glass of wine or if you and your date want different wines (perhaps you are ordering meals that pair with different types of wine). For example, if I’m getting chicken and my date’s getting steak, then I’ll probably want a white wine and he’ll likely want a red wine. This is a simplistic example, as wine pairing will be a topic for another day, so I won’t go into a deeper explanation right now.
Discuss with your date color preferences for the meal. Now is the time to decide if you’re interested in a red wine or a white wine with your meal. Some people only drink red and some people only drink white, regardless of food pairings. Sparkling and rose wines are also options, but those will be a topic for another day.
If you both want the same type of wine and plan to each have two glasses instead of one (a nice way to linger over a meal while on a date), then I suggest a bottle.
Before you order an individual glass of wine, you should note you’ll likely end up paying more per glass. In a restaurant, you typically get four glasses per bottle. Do the math. Four glasses at the individual price is probably going to be more than the bottle price. In some places, ordering by glass runs the risk of getting a glass from a bottle that has been open too long. A notable exception to this are wine bars that specialize in wines by the glass. For these reasons, I’m going to focus on ordering bottles today.
The Marvelous List
Now that you know you’re looking for a bottle or either red or white, it’s time to take a look at the wine list. In many restaurants, the wine list can be intimidating. Sometimes it’s a large, leather-bound book that rivals the food menu in it’s length and extensiveness. Other times it’s a tiny section of the food menu itself.
Regardless of the size of the list, don’t feel pressured into making a selection right away. Take your time perusing the menu. At least you’ve cut the menu practically in half already by narrowing it down to red or white when you decided to order a bottle. Be sure to ask your date if he/she has any particular preferences in type, sweetness, tannins, oaked/unoaked, minerality, etc. as this can help you narrow it down even further. Don’t worry if you don’t know all of these terms, as most will be covered in another post for another time. For now, know that some menus will have descriptions or categories that can help you identify wines based on your date’s preferences. Otherwise this information will come in handy during “The Final Move.”
As you look at the selections, take note if the restaurant seems to specialize in any particular type of wine. So, are you in a Spanish restaurant? Are there 10 different Spanish wines on the menu? Then you should probably order a Spanish wine. Many wine making countries have evolved their wine over time to pair well with their food (Italy and Spain are great examples of this). Many countries without a strong winemaking tradition will serve foreign alternatives that pair well with the food in their particular ethnic restaurant (Indian and Thai restaurants are a great examples of this).
While you’re checking out the wines, be sure to note the price. This will help you narrow down the list significantly. There’s no need to impress your date with the $125 bottle of wine unless you’re implying that it’s what’s in your wallet that really counts. You can also knock off the cheapest bottles of wine on the list. This actually isn’t so that you won’t seem cheap. The cheapest bottles tend to have higher markup and you’ll get the least bang for your buck by ordering them. Unless you are really going high end, the middle two price quartiles are often the best bet price wise.
At this point, your list should be significantly shorter. Look to see if there are any bottles you know. If it’s a bottle you can get at the grocery store across the street (looking at you Kendall Jackson) then avoid it at all costs. If you can easily pick it up at your local bottle shop, you know it, and love it then you might want to order it so that you can talk more educatedly about it. Just be sure the markup isn’t outrageous before you order it. But why not be adventurous and order something you’ve never tried before?
The Final Move
After knocking out any known wines, you should have only a few options left. Here’s where you don’t actually have to make a final decision on the wine. When the waiter comes to take your wine order, simply ask “what can you tell me about these wines?” At this point, your waiter will likely send over someone who actually knows about wines to tell you about them. Regardless of what they say, you’ll probably be able to figure out which wine they are most excited about. That’s probably the one you should order, but don’t forget to take your date’s opinion into account. If he/she seems particularly excited about one option, go with it. That way, if it’s not good he/she can’t blame you, and, at the very least, you’ve gotten to try a new wine.