In the age of the Internet and social media, people increasingly tend to want to show instead of being. If they watch a football game everyone suddenly becomes coaches, if you talk about politics all have the solutions of the ills of the world, but recently they have also become all Sommelier as well as judges of Master Chef. In the rampant obsession with food, understanding of wine seems to have become a fundamental requirement of belonging to civilization, flaunted with superiority even by people who, outside the comfort zone of tannins, find it hard to master the difference between grape and grappa.
Ordering a bottle of wine can therefore become a very demanding experience for those among us who do not understand it. Having the wine list in your hand while the rest of the table is waiting for you, and in some cases of trite fun while reading the names of wines that tell you little or nothing, not being protected by the monitor and armed with the keyboard, completely without virtual ammunition, having to admit their ignorance. But you do not need to be an expert to order a great wine and impress your diners. I will explain to you how things are, so you will know exactly how to orient yourself with wine cards and Sommelier, then I will give you an infallible script to order wine. When you have finished reading this article, you will aim straight at the centre of the target and you will always know how to hit it.
- A minimum of preparation in advance: you know very well that the Internet is full of simple and accessible information on everything, including wine and now many restaurants have menus and wine lists online. From wherever you are, thanks to smartphones, you are able to gather information so you do not get to the restaurant unprepared
- the choice of wines should be combined with the food you want to order in order to properly match it unless you want a wine in particular that you like and do not care if it is matched correctly
- do not forget if you are in the company, that you are not the centre of the universe. After sitting at the table and after everyone has had time to consult the menu, ask the guests if they want to drink wine and, if so, if they wish by the glass or in the bottle if they have particular preferences or idiosyncrasies. Personally, when I dine with my daughter since I like Prosecco and my daughter abhors bubbles in favour of Arneis White Wine, in order to not deny the pleasure for both of the two wines, we order a bottle by type and rest takes home: there is no shame in asking, probably this is a “shame” all Italian, abroad is also commonly done with advanced foods, the famous “doggy bag”
- house wine by the glass or a bottle? The typical volume of wine by the glass in restaurants is around a fifth of the bottle and generally has a higher price mark than a single bottle. So if you know that at your table you will consume at least four glasses of the same wine, take the bottle. Sometimes, however, it is worth paying extra for the individual glasses. You will have a greater variety of wines to try during dinner, as well as the versatility of perfectly matching each course to a different wine. But getting out of math to get back to the subject, is obviously that a good wine of the house can overcome, without difficulty, a poor wine in the bottle can be fantastic; long ago in a small restaurant in the centre of Genoa I got as a house wine a Pinot Noir vinified in white (sparkling wine): fortunately I was not a driver and I could get more, only a long time later I would have been able to drink the delight of God after rummaging for an hour in a winery. But I think, it is my opinion, that starting with the idea of a wine and give up because of a few euros of difference by settling for anything else, is at least absurd: at that point, I prefer to drink a good beer instead of a bad wine. Eat well and drink better!
- mentally fix a price limit of your wine: the restaurants ingeniously use psychology to push you to order expensive bottles. For example, the so-called “anchor effect”: several studies show that the consumer’s brain tends to attach great importance to the first price that reads on a list, and to use it as a benchmark for all subsequent ones: so if the first price that read it is 90, a bottle of 70 could end up looking like a relatively cheap, even if initially you were prefixed not to spend more than 50. For this, you should first decide your limit, and strictly adhere to it
- despite appearances, the Sommelier or the Waiter is not there to judge but to help you. So that you can do your best, though, you’ll have to give him some starting information: do you want white or red? A full-bodied or light wine? By making food orders first, it will become easier for him to suggest a good match. Finally, to make him understand your budget with discretion, you can use a formula like: “I was thinking of a bottle like this”, indicating a wine that costs what you want to spend or even a little less
- if the manager of a restaurant puts on paper a particularly unusual or exotic wine with the difficulties of research and supply that this may entail for him, it probably means that the wine is really suitable to be combined with the dishes proposed in that restaurant. Moreover, the fact that the wine is unusual and not very well known allows you to make all the questions you want the waiter without appearing incompetent (without being pedantic, I recommend)
- the restaurants generally sell the bottles two-three times as much as they pay although, of course, the price varies a lot depending on the price range and type of restaurant. The reload is usually inversely proportional to the price, so on the cheaper bottles is charged more, in percentage, than on the most expensive ones. This is a reason to be wary of the “house wine”, which is chosen to be sold in quantity and therefore with a good profit margin: for a little you pay it, it is usually much more than it is worth
- none of us wants to look too stingy when ordering wine at the restaurant, and so we often do not feel good to order the cheapest bottle on the list. The second cheapest is a good compromise between the need not to spend a fortune and to save face. Small problem: restaurateurs are perfectly aware of this mechanism, and therefore tend to attribute the second-lowest price to a bottle on which the reload is very high. In contrast, the cheaper bottle is often a good deal, so you should not be afraid to order it
- taste the wine: here the risk is to be overwhelmed by the solemnity of the ceremony. The things to remember are actually few. First of all, look at the bottle immediately: it often happens that the vintage of the wine served does not correspond to that indicated on the list. At the time of the tasting, all you have to do is look at the wine, smell it and drink a little sip, reminding you that the purpose of the tasting is not to determine if you like wine (you have already ordered it) but to understand if there is something wrong, for example, if it tastes of cork. So do not overbalance with value judgments above “all right”. But if you feel an unpleasant taste or smell, do not be ashamed to tell the waiter, who will take the bottle back and serve you another one. After confirming that the wine is free from defects, it is time to relax and enjoy the fruits of so much effort! I recommend, enjoy the wine without any haste. Some waiters will be hyperactive in filling your glass continuously because they want you to finish the first bottle as quickly as possible in the hope that you will order another one. On the other hand, if they are too slow to fill your glass, do not hesitate to take the bottle and do it all yourself.