How to Choose a Wine for You & Your Date

Chloe Dickson, winner of Oddbin’s 2013 The Palate award and writer of wine blog Palate Talk breaks down 5 key things you need to know when picking the perfect wine for you and your date.

Selecting wine at a restaurant can be a daunting undertaking, and if you’re on a date the stakes are even higher. Knowing about different regions and appellations, vintages and grape varieties and how they best pair with food can seem like an arduous and intimidating task, but understanding the basics doesn’t have to be…

The best point of reference for any wine related question is always the house Sommelier or wine consultant, but if you want to impress your date by knowing a thing or two, here are 5 tips on how to help you pick that perfect bottle.

Base your wine selection around your food

Before you order wine at a restaurant take a minute to consider what you and your date might want to eat as this may help you narrow your scope. The best food and wine pairings complement each other in flavour, body and intensity. Think about the expectations of your desired dish whilst reading through the descriptive notes listed next to each wine option i.e. light, full-bodied, floral, fruity, peppery.

Even if your wine knowledge is limited your food knowledge should help you narrow down some good matches. Are you ordering a light fish dish in a lemon sauce or a juicy steak and frites in a peppercorn sauce? A light fish dish needs a delicate wine with citrus notes, such as a Pinot Grigio, whereas a succulent steak needs a heartier wine with flavours and character capable of standing up to the richness of the meat, such as a robust Cabernet-Sauvignon or a peppery Malbec.

Don’t rule out the house

It may be the lowest-priced and most obvious wine on the list, but a reputable restaurant’s house wine is always a safe bet. Some people fear being thought of as cheap for ordering the house wine, but this shouldn’t be the case.

Although often simpler in flavour and complexity, house wines are chosen by the sommelier or restaurateur for their food-friendliness, for being good value for money and for appealing to a variety of different tastes and menu options. The restaurateur wants you to enjoy your experience so they’re not going to jeopardize this by recommending something that isn’t up to par. When considering value for money the house wine can be one of the best options available.

Match food and wine by country and/or region where possible

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that when possible you should match wine and cuisine by country. Wine producing regions cater their wine styles to their local cuisines which means that you’re more likely to make a good pairing even if you don’t know much about the different varietals.

If you’re in an Italian restaurant, choose and Italian wine, if it’s a Tapas bar, go with a Spanish option. Italian wines, for example, are all high in acidity which makes them perfect matches to the rich, acidic tomato-based sauces and vinegars that feature so heavily in Italian cooking. On the other hand, the robust, smoky and oaked qualities found in many Spanish wines compliment the cured meats and diverse flavours found in Tapas – a great fact to share with your date as you put the wine order in.

Look for the familiar

Take a minute to look over the list and look for regions, grapes and names that you already know and like. Familiarity will give you confidence and will help you to better understand the sommelier or restaurateur’s wine tastes. If you like/know a variety of wines on the list chances are you’ll like some of the lesser known varieties as well which can sometimes be better value for money.

If you can’t immediately recognize any grapes, regions or wine styles on the list, look out for the descriptive notes, i.e. full-boded, black cherry, cedar, light-bodied, crisp, floral, and match them to styles of wine that you know you like. If you really want to impress, ask your date what kinds of flavours they like and choose a wine which mentions these in their description.

Understanding price for quality.

A novice mistake when choosing a wine at a restaurant is to order the second or third cheapest on the list. The average customer may assume that as it’s slightly more expensive than the house wine it will be better quality, but more often than not, the second and third cheapest options can be the worst value for money.

The house wine needs to maintain a certain level of quality as it’s been recommended, but the next option down doesn’t, so knowing that customers commonly fall for the price misconception restaurateurs will place lower quality wines in the second and third spots hoping to make a larger profit. If you want better wine, up your dinner budget by a couple of extra pounds or stick to the house wine and get your money’s worth – your date will thank you for it!