It can be the most dreaded part of a business meal or a group get-together: picking the wine.
Navigating a restaurant's wine list doesn't have to send you into psychotherapy, though. Here are a few simple rules that you can follow to make your wine selection the toast of the evening.
For years, my friends and coworkers have usually ended up handing me the wine list, because I have a tiny bit of knowledge of the subject. I used to get so nervous about picking vino for the table, but it almost always worked out. Most people aren't too critical of the wine selections - connoisseurs will do some evaluation, but the vast majority of folks just want something pleasant to drink with their meal.Even if the choice turns out not to be perfect, it's unlikely to ruin the evening. Plenty of wines will suffice an uncritical palette; the odds are in your favor. It's fine to go with what you know. If you notice a wine you've had before, or really enjoy selections from a certain region or grape variety, use that knowledge to pick something that'll be right for you. If the wine list is as thick as War and Peace, remember how much you loved that South African Sauvignon Blanc, head for that country's section and pick something similar. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Wine makers are so plentiful now that it would usually take a real connoisseur to be familiar with the selections on any serious wine list. The people who should know are the servers and, if available, the sommelier (that's the in-house wine expert) -- and they're around to help. Sometimes they can be a bit snooty or have their own interests in mind (see below), but usually they want you to get the best wine that you'll enjoy. Help the sommelier help you. Now that you've gotten the attention of that in-house wine expert, give that person some information that can help him or her you make the best choice possible. Three things can help:
I was dining recently at a very nice steakhouse, and the wine steward tried to push me toward a particular California red. He mentioned that the steakhouse had an exclusive deal with the producer, and this was the only place you could get that wine. Sometimes it'll be exactly what you want -- but in my case, it wasn't. It's possible the steward had some sort of incentive to recommend that wine above others. I ordered a different wine. Don't be afraid to send the wine back. I've sent only a couple of bottles back in my entire wine-drinking career, but every time I initially thought something was wrong with the wine, there was.