By ‘wine buff’ we mean the type of man who can order a half-decent bottle in a restaurant without coming across as a cocky old snob. Whether it’s a first date, an important lunch with people in suits, or an attempt to win over suspicious in-laws whom you suspect might think you’re hapless, stick to these ten basic rules and you won’t go wrong. Or, at least, not too far wrong …
1. Never ask the wine waiter to recommend a wine. How do you know for sure that he knows what he’s talking about? And if he works on commission, what’s to stop him from steering you towards a more expensive bottle? Do it yourself.
2. Don’t let him pressure you into choosing. If you feel rushed in any way, simply make eye contact, project confidence, and say, ‘Thank you, we’ll decide shortly.’ Never be pushed into choosing a wine you’re unsure of or anything out of your price range.
3. Look for grape varieties and countries. Wily wine producers stick different labels on restaurant wine so you don’t notice that you’re ordering the same bottle you can get for R50 in a supermarket. Remember which grape varieties and countries you normally like, rather than the pretty sticker on the front, so that you recognize the name of a favorite vino when you spot it on a restaurant wine list.
4. With white wines, the younger the better. As a basic rule, whites are best aged a couple of years; any older and they’ll almost certainly have lost a little of their fruity zing. With reds you can go a year further back, as they age slightly better. Cheaper wines diminish with age, expensive wines improve-you remember that.
5. Cheap doesn’t always mean inferior. It’s often merely less fashionable. A South African sauvignon is far cheaper than one from New Zealand simply because it’s less ‘fashionable,’ though both taste equally good. Italian and Spanish grapes are also worth considering for the same reason.
6. With fish dishes of any kind … you’re safe with all whites and most of the cheaper end of the New World reds-those from Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, for example. But with reds, avoid anyything containing tannin as it will taste metallic with the fish and you’ll screw your face up as you eat.
7. Overchilling white wine paralyzes the taste. You can tell if it’s too cold if the glass frosts up when it’s poured. To remedy this, ask the wine waiter to remove the bottle from the ice bucket or cooler and shove it up hi … er, and wait until it’s warmed up before drinking. For this reason alone, wine should always be tasted before you eat (see below). If the food turns up before the wine, send it straight back with a contemptuous glare.
8. Never order wine without tasting it first. Make sure the bottle’s opened in front of you to ensure it’s the one you ordered. If the waiter opens the wrong bottle in front of you, it’s your mistake rather than his. And if you don’t like the taste of the wine you’re trying but there’s nothing actually wrong with it, you’ve chosen poorly and are expected to buy the bottle and learn from your mistake.
9. Send bad wine back. If a wine tastes oxidized (it’ll be old, brown, and particularly dull-tasting) or if it’s corked (it smells musty and moldy), send it straight back. Corked wine especially is still such a problem that you’ll get one sooner or later and you won’t be able to tell until the bottle’s opened. Screw caps are replacing corks on many mid-priced wines, which helps, but even screw-cap wines need to be offered for slurping first as the wine may have been contaminated along the production line.
10. Buy champagne. If your only reason for ordering wine is to impress a date, buy champagne instead.Yes, sparkling wine from New Zealand is a lot cheaper, often better and made in exactly the same way, but nothing has quite the same effect on shallow ladies as a bottle of over-priced champagne.
Fancy a short or appreciation course in wine? Check out Wine.co.za
© Man Skills, Nick Harper