It's Thursday night. You've been waiting months for the opportunity to go out to dinner with your employers. They invite you to a restaurant you've never been before. Excitement fills the air as you finally get to sit back and relax with the two people you admire most. After settling in, Steve, the CEO, says he's been getting into wine lately and, knowing you dabble too, asks you to pick a bottle for the table. How do you handle this? As you hold the wine list, the sommelier heads your way. It's your move, what do you do?
My advice? Act like a boss. Take control of the situation by letting the sommelier help. You may not be able to own the wine list, but you can own the situation and choose an exciting bottle of wine. Trust me, it's easy.
You don't need to overthink it. Here are eight easy steps to ordering wine like a boss.
Step 1: Do you want to drink white or red wine? Believe it or not, this is the biggest decision, and the most helpful to the sommelier. Tell them right off the bat which you prefer. If you are open to either or you don't know, just tell them. My advice, when in doubt, drink rosé. I always joke that rosé is the perfect choice for the indecisive.
Step 2: Do you prefer light, medium, or full-bodied wine? Once this decision is made, you've filtered out at least 66 percent of the options. Don't know how to tell? Light-bodied is a wine that's not weighty on the palate. It's fresh and usually quite clean like Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Gamay. Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo are usually medium-bodied wines. Full-bodied wines pack a punch and can be a bit astringent. Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Syrah are full bodied with notes of black cherry, plum, and blackberry while strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry can be found in lighter bodied wines.
Step 3: What will you be eating? This is huge. If this is not a concern for you then just let them know. That's OK. There are no real rules when it comes to food and wine, just opinions. If it's a concern, let the sommelier help you. That's what they're there for.
Step 4: What have you been enjoying at home? The sommelier doesn't know and this information is valuable if they want to introduce you to something new while staying within your comfort zone.
Step 5: How much money are you comfortable spending? This step is vitally important if it matters to you. Every wine program should offer wonderful wines under $60. Any sommelier worth their salt will have a handful of wines they are excited about that won't make you take out a second mortgage on your house. I personally love it when a guest is up front with how much they want to spend. It actually makes the challenge more exciting.
Step 6: Ask the sommelier what they're excited about. Their current fixation could take your wine and dining experience to the next level. Sommeliers wake up thinking about wine. We are exposed to the latest trends as well as the oldest traditions. We are constantly tasting, learning, and exploring. There is nothing we enjoy more than introducing a guest to an exciting new wine.
Step 7 (and the hardest step of them all): Try not to rely on the wineries you're most familiar with. There's a reason you're comfortable with them — you can drink them whenever you want. If you're going to pay restaurant prices for wine then drink something you can't get your hands on. If you do this, it'll be worth every dollar.
Step 8: Watch the bottle get popped and enjoy every sip.
Now back to that dinner. As the sommelier approaches, you close the wine list and say:
"Good evening, we are so excited to be here. I want to order a bottle of wine for the table. We're looking for a white wine. Something fuller in body. I know we're going to be eating fish, pasta, and maybe one person will be having the steak. Steve just mentioned he's been drinking some Chenin Blanc at home. I don't think we want to spend more than $70. Do you have any recommendations? Anything you're really excited about right now?"
Bam! Done. Now it's all on the sommelier. They have the information needed to make an informed decision. The best part, you sounded confident and gave great direction even though you may not know what Chenin Blanc tastes like. You just ordered wine like a boss and impressed your two bosses while at it. Well done.
David McCarus is the general manager and beverage director at FIG.