Navigating a wine list: Choose your own adventure
Wine lists can be as daunting as those interactive stories where a misstep on an adventure could lead your character into uncharted waters, or worse yet, demise. Let’s be honest: we all peeked once in a while to the next chapter to make sure our character made it home safe, and armed with a few pointers we can also navigate a wine list and be a hero. So here are a few tips to help you work your way through a list:
1. Choose your destination:
From the comfort of your own home, or in a restaurant, wine offers the opportunity to explore exotic places without long airport lines, flight delays, customs and ticket prices. So have a thought about whether you want to adventure to the Old World (France, Spain, Italy) or something more modern and “new World” – Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. Either way, try to choose a wine that has a true sense of place, the French call this “terroir”. If you want a more modern wine then go for wines made by artistic winemakers. And you can’t go wrong on any adventure if you ask for a little direction from a local – in this case, the sommelier.
2. Ask for direction: Sommelier as guides
Wine people LOVE to talk about wine, so don’t be afraid to ask them! I always look at the job of the sommelier as that of an interpreter, they should be able to guide you to the wines you like, and interpret your likes and mood into a wine that will satisfy your needs. For example, don’t be afraid to describe tastes and experiences you like and paint a picture for the sommelier. Think of the wine list as a travel catalogue; e.g: are you looking for something fun and lively for the summertime sipping, or a trip through Tuscany with a deep brooding red? Or maybe just something for a great steak; don’t be afraid to share with the sommelier what you like and don’t like and they will be able to help you.
3. Value: Time is money and the sweet spot on a wine list
Many people equate “value” with “cheap”; however this is not always the case. The recent growth and adaptation of “wines by the glass” means that the expensive Bordeaux you could never afford by the bottle is suddenly affordable by the glass or two. By the glass is perfect for tasting new varietals, regions, or if dining alone or with disparate preferences. For “by the bottle” guides, give your sommelier a realistic price range – $60 a bottle may well buy you a better value Portuguese or Spanish wine than many better known regions.
4. Write it down!
Everyone loves a story, so try to learn a few small facts about the wine and write the name of the wine down so you can share your experience. New apps such as “Delectable” make remembering what you drank where so much easier. But never underestimate the pen and paper to recall that great wine the next time you visit the restaurant or wine shop.