It is remarkable how intimidating it can be when you are the one who gets stuck with the job of ordering wine for the table. Oh, the pressure! Since many of you have asked for some direction, here is my foolproof guide for how to navigate the wine list. (You can thank My Wine Tribe when you look like a bon vivant in front of your friends, colleagues and dates!)
My strategy is simple and straightforward:
1. Determine how many bottles you’ll need. If you have four people or less in your party, stick with one. For five or more, go with two.
2. Ask everyone what they are planning to order for dinner.
3. If you are ordering one bottle and the majority of your companions are going with a red meat, game-y or spicy dish, stick with a medium- to full-bodied red (e.g.: Cabernet or Syrah). If your fellow diners are split between heavy and light dishes, look for a light red (Pinot Noir). If the table is leaning towards lighter fare, you can’t go wrong with a crisp white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Reisling.
4. If you have 5 people and the dinner orders are mixed, then plunk down a little extra for a second bottle of wine, split the difference and get one red and one white.
4. Stay away from the cheapest wine. Your best value is usually the next step up. For example, if the wine prices run from $20-$100 consider wines in the $30-$40 range. Unless you are on an expense account, in which case proceed to the next highest level ($50-$60) and let the boss pay!
5. Choose 2-3 wine options from the menu, then ask the server or sommelier to help you narrow it down. That way you can impress your friends by having an intelligent wine conversation, and the server or sommelier can steer you to a good choice.
A couple other things to note: If you are in an Italian, Spanish or some other country-specific restaurant go with the wine from that region. Wine and food are meant to be paired, and the sunshine, soil, rain levels that give the food its special native quality will do the same for the wines. Finally, trust your sommelier; they are the ones who put the wine list together and their job is to make sure you have a grand experience, not to rip you off. And they tend to be discreet, which is helpful if you go awry with your choices.
Oh, one last tip: I have noticed that confidence is half the battle. Even if you happen to choose a mediocre wine, do it with bravado. Your friends or colleagues will be impressed by your confidence and will assume you have chosen a winner.
I would love to hear about any other methods or strategies you have on how to order wine for the table so please share them in the comments section. Cheers!