Valentine’s Day is positively fraught with potential catastrophes, misdemeanours and miss-communications.
Add first (and second and third) date dynamics into that and you have a cavalcade of uncertainty and second guessing.
And then… the wine list arrives.
If you’re a bloke, you’ll still most likely be automatically handed the wine list.
Alas, whoever choses the bottle of wine on a first date, prepare to be judged faster than you can say chocolate-covered strawberry.
Is this blog post entirely: subjective, shallow and probably unfair? Indeed! And of course there are exceptions to every single rule but I hope it entertains you nonetheless - and who knows, it may prove prophetic!
Cabernet Sauvignon: Bringing out the big guns - this person wants to appear serious and grown up.
Merlot: New World? Bit naff, unadventurous. Exception for Right Bank Bordeaux, which is more forgivable.
Aussie Shiraz: Woah there. It’s only a school night, mate.
Anything from Southern Italy: Hopeless romantic.
Northern Rhone: Marriage material.
Barolo: Amateur, but trying hard to impress. Dangerous ‘black-tongue’ territory.
Rioja: Crianza? Bit of a cop out. Reserva or Gran Reserva? Traditionalist.
Red Burgundy: Someone’s really trying to impress.
Pinotage: Either mis-informed or slightly reckless.
New World Pinot Noir: Trying to be terribly suave. (Not a bad choice actually for a date if we’re over simplifying - not too heavy or tannic. See ‘black-tongue’ above).
Champagne: Hold on to your pants.
English Sparkling: Patriot. Discuss Brexit with caution.
Prosecco: So 2013.
Cava: Comfortable in themselves.
Sauvignon Blanc: Most likely lacking imagination. Proceed with caution.
White Burgundy: A keeper.
Picpoul de Pinet: Cheap skate.
Albarino: Trend follower.
Pinot Grigio: YAWN.
Pinot Gris on the other hand: sophisticate.
Muscadet sur Lie: Watch out for the oysters; they’re trying to seduce you.
Aged Hunter Valley Semillon: Propose, now.
Riesling: Confident, alpha-type.
I have my tongue firmly in my cheek of course.
MY TIPS ON HOW TO ACTUALLY CHOOSE WINE IN A RESTAURANT
So what of actually choosing something good? Food and wine pairing can appear like something of a dark art. My advice? Don't stress. Here are 3 pointers that may help you out:
- Don't go for the second one on the list. Supposedly restauranteurs cottoned on to this once useful rule-of-thumb long ago.
- If there's something unusual on there, consider giving it go. Why? Imagine the person who put the list together. They had to include the classics, the ones with which consumers are most familiar: A Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Grigio, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Shiraz, a Pinot Noir, a Rosé of some sort, a Champagne, and a Prosecco at the very least. At this point they're running out of space. If there's something unfamiliar on there, you can almost guarantee its something the restaurant is excited about and believes in enough to include it at the expense of a safer, more familiar sounding choice. The same market dynamics mean you can be pretty sure it'll be good value versus a 'brand' name, and by brand I mean words like 'Rioja', or 'Chianti'.
- Finally, ask the waiter. If they don't know the wines well, they'll get someone who does. Yes you can learn about food and wine pairing to your heart's content but no-one will know better than them about the specific wines on this list right here. There's a strange stoicism I've noticed when the wine list comes around and sometimes a fear of engaging - see my post 'Do you suffer from wine anxiety?'. But most sommeliers care disproportionately about getting the right wine and see it as a huge missed opportunity when someone choses without engaging. This is what they live for! Mostly they are desperate to share their hard-won knowledge and passion. And besides the cost of them in worked into your bill, so you may as well benefit from the full customer experience!
(If you're worried they'll try to up-sell you, you can always point to the price of something on the list and say "we're looking for something in this kind of range". In fact, it's very helpful to the waiter/sommelier if you do this.)
For more in-depth advice on how to shop for wine, check out my post: How to Choose Wine: My Top Tips, Myths and Tricks
So, whatever you're drinking, I wish you happy sipping and excellent conversation. Wine is an adventure and one of the joys of life. It should be fun, and if not, you're not doing it right!!