Archive for May, 2015

How to Order Wine in a Fancy Restaurant

May 27, 2015

Okay, you are at a nice restaurant, sit down and, in addition to the menu, are presented with leather covered wine list the size of a bible.

What do you do?

Here are two approaches to try.

First, you can ask for help. It’s not an easy thing to do, and can be very intimidating, especially if the waiter/sommellier is a bit snotty.

Best way to handle that is to be as specific as possible! Tell the waiter the grape, style and price range – say a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon for around $50 or an buttery Chardonnay. With that much info, you should get back a couple of recommendations. Keep in mind bottle prices can be 2 – 3 times retail, so your options may be limited.

You can take the same approach ordering wine by the glass, by the way, if you don’t recognize any of the options. But watch out for wines that have been open too long! If it seems off, ask for a new bottle to be opened.

And if you want to go it on your own with the wine list?

Well, first off, scan the list for wines you may know and like. If you find one and can live with the price, that is an option.

If you want to try something new, think hard about the style of wine you like and try to match that with the prices they are charging!

Easiest matches are Cali style Cabs and Chardonnay, French Syrah amd Grenache and Aussie Shiraz…you can just about guarantee they will be the same style as the wines you know and like.

Ones to be careful of are Cabernet wines from other parts of the world (which can be woody and herbal) and Grenaches/Syrahs from Spain and Italy (which can be oaky). I am not saying those are bad, just different in style. You can ask if you like…the waiter/sommelier should be able to tell you the style.

A last piece of advice with respect to older wines. You will pay more, of course, but more important is understanding what they will taste like. If you are going to drop $100+ on a bottle and don’t have a lot of experience with mature wines, remember that the fruitiness will probably be gone, replaced by herbal, dried fruit. It can still be great…but very, very different!

So there you go! How to deal with a wine list at a nice restaurant.

So go, order…and enjoy!


How do I remember that wine I liked last week so I can find it in the liquor store?

May 21, 2015

It is one of the most frequent conversations I hear while in wine and liquor stores…people talking (sometimes even just to themselves!) about a wine they just had, but they can’t remember the name, or even where it was from! I can hear the dismay in their voices, and sometimes see it in their eyes, as they look at the rows of wine with no idea where to begin.

So what to do?

Well, I won’t say the obvious thing…which is to write it down! Because almost nobody does that…it just isn’t convenient.

And asking someone? Well, even if you get over the intimidation or embarrassment factor, the “help” is not always the best from the staff in many wine stores. They are there to sell you wine, and the more expensive the better!

But there are a couple of easy things to do that take advantage of what most of us carry around – our smart phone!

The simplest thing to do is just take a picture of the bottle if you like it. Almost all phones have cameras, and those photos stay on your phone until you delete them, and are easy to access. That will give you the name of the wine, its producer and country; from there you can either find it yourself, or ask staff a very specific question.

Another idea – a modern riff on “writing it down” – is to use one of the “notes” functions on your phone to do just that. Click, write, save…that’s it! Again, the file will stay there until you delete it. And you can go back again and again to update it…kind of like an ongoing, virtual wine shopping list.

Finally, you can even send yourself an email or text message! That may be the easiest thing to do…take a sip, look at the bottle, whip out your phone, and send a note to yourself with the name, producer and country. It will “ping” in no time, and you can just leave it in your inbox.

So there you go. It doesn’t take anything elaborate, expensive or time consuming. Just use your phone…to remember your wines!


How to Avoid Being Biased in Your Wine Choices

May 12, 2015

Let’s face it…everybody has their favourite wines, and wineries! The more wine you taste – and drink – the more you develop preferences, particularly if you find wineries that make the style of wine you like on a consistent basis.

And the opposite is also true. Try a few vintages of the same wines/wineries, find them to be not your style – and the temptation is to write the winery (and its wines) off before you taste any more.

But that isn’t fair for a couple of reasons. First, we need to remember that it is about the style of wine that we like – that doesn’t make it bad, just different.

Second, wineries actually change winemakers – and wine styles – all the time. To completely write off a winery permanently may mean you are going to miss some wines you may really like.

So what do you do to avoid this?

Well, the first thing is, if you go to wine tastings, force yourself to try wines and wineries that you either don’t usually gravitate to or have almost given up on. In those situations – after you have paid the tasting fee – it is essentially “free” to try as many as you like. So do that! If you spit out the tastings (as you should) you literally have nothing to lose except the time it takes to do the tastings!

I did just this at a recent tasting of BC wines, focusing on white wines in particular. And I actually found some wines I would normally not have! It opened my mind to other possibilities.

If you don’t go to tastings, another approach is to try 1 or 2 wines a month that are different. You can choose the approach you want here – change wineries but stay with the grapes you like, changes grapes, whatever. The point is to try something different. As long as you keep the costs in line what you usually spend, the worst thing that will happen is you end up drinking a wine you don’t really like once or twice a month.

Even that isn’t so bad, if you like to cook! A number of times I will just take the rest of that bottle, put the cork back in, and decide it’s time to marinate something with it. In that case, no waste at all!

So there you go…some advice on how to make sure your wine wine preferendes don’t limit your wine options in the future!