For many, dinner at a fine dining restaurant is a treat that has to be worked for and doesn’t happen very often. One could put money away for an entire year to save for their Napa vacation and still not have enough money saved to eat at The French Laundry while they’re in the area. When you do have that money saved, and you do find a last minute baby sitter, and you do get all dressed up, you do valet the car, you do pull out your wife’s chair as she set down, you don’t want to feel silly when you’re handed an encyclopedia sized novel from which to choose your wine. I want to put your mind at ease and help you through this daunting task.
This is your night! You’ve saved for a month, you both have the time off, you have the sitter, it’s your anniversary, it’s your birthday, you got the promotion, you got fired? No… you quit. That’s it. Whatever the occasion is, it’s your night! There is NO reason for you to have any uncomfortable feelings about that list at all! Looking at the vastness of that list, may have you feeling like you don’t know much about wine at all. Trust me, you know much more than you think you do! (Unless you think you know it all, in which case, you probably don’t have much reason for reading this!) There is one thing that you need to know that no one else in the restaurant knows. How much are you going to spend? That’s all you need. At any restaurant, at any given time, there is someone that will turn your cash in to some fine juice.
Sometimes, I find that the best place to start is in the beginning. Take a look at the wines that are available by the glass. You may want to spend a little more than this, but this will get your mind thinking about wine. Wines that are served by the glass typically run from $6 to $15, and they are a good display of what the general public will drink at anytime of day, any day of the week. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Grigio are all must haves by the glass. Sometimes just seeing those names in print gets you thinking about the last bottle of wine that you thoroughly enjoyed. If you see a Chianti by the glass, it may remind you that your last Italian wine was the best wine you’ve ever had.
“Honey, what was that Italian red wine that we had at Donna’s house a few months ago?” You ask your wife.
“Oh, on Ken’s Birthday? I don’t remember, but I do remember that it was in a tear drop shaped bottle.” She says jokingly.
Perhaps your server was listening in at this point, “Well, Sir, if it was in a tear drop shaped bottle, it was more than likely from Piedmont or Veneto. Does the name Barolo ring a bell?”
“No,” you reply “but, I do feel like there was an ‘o’ in the name!”
“Ahh, perhaps an Amar ‘o’ ne?” he asks with little hopeful stars in his eyes (Amarone typically doesn’t sell for less than$100/ bottle in a restaurant). “Or maybe a Nebbilol ‘o’?”
By this time, your server has already flipped to the Italian section of the list, and is pointing at what he is dictating. You respond “That’s it! Nebbiolo! It was fantastic! It was so big and so powerful! I can still taste it!!”
If he knows his wine, he will then begin telling you the difference between a Nebbiolo, a Barolo, and a Baberesco, and your spending limit will determine just how amazing your wine can be.
As a wine guy, I CRAVE that interaction. If you feel intimidated at all, ask questions. There is someone that is dying to answer them. Like I said, you know more than you think you do. If you can tell your waiter one wine that you love, he can point out five more just like it ranging in price from $30-$150. If you tell me that you like “7 Deadly Zins,” I’m going to tell you that you’ll love “The Prisoner.” I’m going to tell you that I love “Tofanelli.” I’ll also say that if you want something inbetween, “T-Vine” is a good way to go. If you want a more serious Zin “Chateau Montelena” or “Grgich Hills” may be your best bet.
If you don’t want that interaction, and don’t want the conversation, find something that you know you love, and go with something similar. If you know and trust La Crema Chardonnay, you’ll probably enjoy many California Chardonnays. I would suggest tasting as many as possible. I would also suggest trying varying price points and different regions.
The secret to confidence with an intimidating list, is not expecting to know everything. Even your server will admit to not knowing the list cover to cover. Ask questions; ask for help. With a list that size, you and your server can find your perfect bottle without even cracking the cover.
View my restaurants’ wine lists:
Also coming soon:
Wine Event at Nosh – March 17, 6PM – 8PM – Wince Cru Spanish and Portuguese Wine Tasting