Selecting a wine at a restaurant, for a special occasion or even for drinking at home can be tricky; there are countless varieties from countries and regions all over the world, each with their own individual flavours. Will this Merlot go with the main course? What temperature should the Champagne be? Which glass should I serve it in and how much should I pour?
Choosing Wine to Match Your Meal
Choosing the right wine is easier if you’re pairing it with food. Very dry white wines generally match best to fish and white meat (and not much else), as do rose wines. Sweet white wines and dessert wines match with many cheeses, as well as (of course), dessert. A light red wine should be matched with cheese or white meat, but not fish, while full-bodied reds should generally be paired with red meats that can stand up to the intense flavours of the wine.
Wine Sweetness Chart
Both red and white wines come in a spectrum of sweetness, from the bone dry to the super sweet. Once you know which you require, you can look out for the following varieties.
How to Choose Wine in a Restaurant
Choose the wine that best suits your meal and if you can’t decide then ask the waiter, who will be more than happy to recommend one (don’t be afraid to tell the waiter your budget, either – it will help them narrow their recommendations).
Things you should do when ordering wine in a restaurant:
- Make sure that whoever ordered the wine is the one who tests it when it arrives at the table.
- Smell the wine. If it smells musty it is ‘corked’, and you should inform the waiter.
Things you shouldn’t do when ordering wine in a restaurant:
- Smell the cork if it is handed to you – you should simply check it is moist (this indicates that the wine was stored properly).
- Swirl the glass, as it can disguise the aroma of the wine and hide ‘off’ flavours.
What should you do if you don’t like the wine you’ve ordered in a restaurant?
If there’s nothing wrong with the wine you’ve ordered and you simply don’t like it, you should:
- Before calling the waiter over, take another sip. The first sip can often be overly acidic, and if you’ve just been drinking a different wine, this could affect your perception of the new one.
- If you’re still not convinced, you should ask the waiter’s opinion, who will confirm (or contest) whether the wine is corked, or there is something else wrong with the bottle.
- It is down to the waiter to determine the next steps, but they may suggest the wine breathes, or is decanted before they offer you another bottle. That said, if there is nothing wrong with the bottle the restaurant is under no obligation to replace it for free (although they may offer to do so, as a goodwill gesture).
What to Do When Serving Wine to Guests at Home
When entertaining at home it’s important your guests are allowed to properly appreciate the wine you serve them. Here are a few things to consider.
Wine Temperature Serving Chart
As a general rule white wines are served chilled and red wines at room temperature, however this is oversimplifying things. Sweet and sparkling wines, for example, should be served much cooler than full-bodied whites (the first of which should ideally be served between 6 and 7 degrees celsius, and the latter, between 11 and 12 degrees).
It’s also worth noting that the idea that red wines should be served at room temperature came about before central heating, meaning that the average home was much cooler then than it is today (in other words, if you’re serving red wine straight out the cupboard, you’re probably serving it too warm). If you want to ensure your wines are always served at the ideal temperature, it’s well worth investing in a wine cooler.
What Wine Glass to Use
Sure, you don’t have to serve wine in the “correct” glass. Most people will be happy as long as you don’t bring them a pint glass or mug, but you want to serve wine like the pros, right? Then you need to match the type of wine you’re serving to the glass you serve it in.
Reds, for instance, should be served in a glass with a large bowl so the aromas can be released, and whites, a glass with a smaller bowl, to trap the aromas. Sparkling wines are typically served in tall, slim glasses, but if you want to be traditional, they should actually be served in a ‘coupe’ – a shallow, saucer shaped glass.
How Much Wine to Pour in the Glass
There’s nothing wrong with filling your wine glass to the brim (not if you ask us, at least) but if you want to serve wine the “right” way, you need to be a little more conservative with your measures. White wines should be poured to the halfway marik, a glass of sparkling wine should be three quarters full, and a glass of red wine, just a third full.
How to Hold Your Wine Glass
How should you hold a wine glass? You just pick it up and start drinking, right? The correct way to hold your wine glass is actually by the stem. That’s because if you hold it by the bowl, your hand will warm the wine. Perhaps more importantly, if you hold your glass by the stem, it’s easier for your host to see when it’s time to top it up!
Wine Tasting Vocabulary: Things to Say About Wine
At a dinner party it’s good etiquette to say something nice about the wine, other than “mmm tasty”. Unfortunately, if you don’t know much about wine, the pressure to comment on it can be intimidating. Here are a few foolproof basic wine terms to get you started.
“Ah the terroir – quite exquisite!”
Terroir is a term used to explain the difference location (and the resulting environmental conditions) makes to a wine. For example, French Malbecs are markedly different to Argentinian Malbecs.
“Yes, the tannins are quite pronounced.”
Tannins are responsible for the drying sensation you get when drinking some wines. Dark, dry reds have the most tannins.
“Interesting body. I love the texture.”
How ‘full’ does the wine feel in your mouth? ‘Fuller’ wines have more body. This is usually determined by the alcohol content – wines over 13.5% are typically considered full-bodied.
Wine Flavour Wheel
If you’re still struggling to find anything interesting to say about your wine, you can always respond with a polite, yet contrary comment, for example:
Them: “I’m really noticing the impact of the acidity in this wine.”
You: “Really? I didn’t get much acidity at all.”
Want to learn more about wine? Read our other wine articles here: