…IDEAL for impressing dates, business clients or, well, yourself.

In today’s flourishing wine climate, more grape varieties and excellent, interesting wines are available than ever before. However, where there is choice, there is also confusion – that pesky paradox, if you will – and the world of wine can be an intimidating and complex one, to say the least.

Whilst we all can’t be sommeliers well versed in all aspects of wine, there are ways and means to appear conversant in grape, fermentation and noble rot, so you can navigate a restaurant’s wine list like a pro. With that in mind, we’ve teamed up with Lukasz Kolodziejczyk, head of fine wine at Cult Wines, to give you these; our 5 beginner’s tips for navigating a restaurant’s wine list confidently, IDEAL for impressing dates, business clients or, well, yourself.

FOCUS ON THE WINES YOU KNOW YOU LIKE

Perhaps the simplest way to navigate a wine list is by honing in on the wines you know you like. Whilst most wine novices of course have a handle on the basic differences between red, white and sparkling wine, and what food they pair with, a good starting point beyond that is to understand the most important grapes under each category. 

If you know you prefer white wine, for example, try to understand which different white grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, are your thing. Next, it’s useful to know whether, in general, you prefer wines on the dryer end of the scale, or if off-dry and sweeter stuff is more your jam. Ultimately, you don’t need to know if a wine is ‘balanced’ or ‘supple’, if the finish is ‘long’ or if ‘melon’ is detectable on the nose, you just need to know that you’ll enjoy drinking it. Having a grape name and a level of dryness in your vernacular will have you looking fairly knowledgeable from the off.

WHAT GROWS TOGETHER GOES TOGETHER

Wine culture and culinary heritage tend to have a symbiotic relationship, so it’ll help to think in terms of regional origins. Be warned; simply opting for an Italian wine for an Italian-inspired meal can seem like the obvious choice rather than expert decision. To navigate a wine list like a professional, get specific with your geographical knowledge. 

So, if a dish has a broadly Mediterranean bent, you might choose a wine from Sicily. Or, if someone on your table has ordered ratatouille, then a Cote de Provence rose would pair magically, since the dish is from the Provence region. If all else fails, mention the word ‘terroir’ several times in terms of everything you’re consuming.

AGE MATTERS

Typically, as vintages get older, the wine becomes more expensive, though it’s certainly not true that all wine gets better exponentially with age. But as a general rule it’s worth noting, since as wine is stored over time, it loses its tannins and acidity which are often unappealing in taste. Whilst it’s up to you how much cash you splash, if there’s only a modest price difference between two vintages, it’s usually worth going for the slightly more expensive option as there will be a notable difference on the finish. 

Focus on wine regions that also overdeliver for their price. For example, if you like ripe, bold reds, Chile and Argentina are worth considering, alongside Spanish reds like Rioja. German Riesling and Spatburgunder (a synonym for Pinot Noir in Germany) is also good too.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE PRONUNCIATION

The pronunciations of dozens of wines can be intimidating and complex. Whilst there is the old ‘point and show’ method, it can make you look a little baffled. For a more finessed approach to ordering, just name the vintage, the winemaker and the grape. For example, instead of “Domaine Chanson Chablis Montee de Tonnerre 1er Cru 2012”, try altering it to “the 2012 Chanson Chablis” for ease (and a sense that you’re a bit suave). If the sommelier needs clarification, they’ll ask for it. Or, you could just order however you feel, because, well, you’re giving them your money.

THE SOMMELIER IS THERE TO HELP

A sommelier is largely in charge of creating and updating a restaurant’s wine list, so who better to ask when navigating your way through? A sommelier’s job is to also recommend the best wine and food pairings to guests, so be assured that there is someone to assist you in your choices.

Don’t be afraid to ask sommeliers “what is this wine like?” as it’s incredibly rare that a customer will be familiar with all the wines on the list, including the sommelier in many cases. It’s also an incredibly skilled job requiring vast knowledge, and it’s a real joy to listen to a sommelier extol the virtues of a particular wine poetically. The whole restaurant experience benefits from this, so do ask, even if you already know!